Flypaper

Helping lots more young Americans get “to and through” four-year college degrees is a major goal of public policy and philanthropy. In 2009, President Obama set the target of leading the world in college completion by 2020. The Lumina Foundation aspires to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent over seven years and half a billion dollars on strategies aimed at increasing college completion.

All of this has led to energetic initiatives inside and outside government to reform the higher education system and provide additional supports to first-generation students—the so-called “completion agenda.”

That’s all well and good. But as I’ve argued before, even these heroic efforts are unlikely to add up to much until we dramatically boost the number of young Americans who are ready for college in the first place. The best evidence of this proposition comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which set a “college-prepared” level on its twelfth-grade assessments a few years ago (in addition to basic, proficient, and advanced). Chart 1 displays the percentage of twelfth-grade students nationally who have reached NAEP’s “college-prepared” level in reading and...

M. René Islas

Children with extraordinary gifts and talents experience drastically different needs. We parents, teachers, and advocates often get nervous calling attention to bright children, and we often fall into the trap of working under the radar or even making ourselves invisible.

When we do this, we pull smart kids into the shadows with us. Hiding hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work in the future. A new approach is required to meet the needs of gifted children. We should borrow the strategies and tactics that other movements—such as civil rights protesters, suffragettes, and environmental activists—have successfully used to inspire social change. It is imperative that we emerge from the shadows and work openly on behalf of gifted children.

As advocates, we must try new strategies and tactics to help society fully understand the nature and needs of gifted children, to create supportive environments for their learning, and to implement research-based practices that help them capitalize on their talents.

In short, we must change minds, change policies, and change practice. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) will drive initiatives to accomplish these important goals through our action and collaboration.

Change Minds

The first goal is to dispel common myths, to expand the...

Paul Hill

Editor's note: This is the first entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Mike Petrilli's introductory post is here.

The ongoing exchange about suspensions and expulsions in charter schools needs to be seen from the school’s perspective. As a school of choice, a charter has two obligations: to maintain a climate conducive to learning, as it promises the families who choose it, and to do all it can to meet the needs of the students it has admitted. These can provoke tension when individual children disrupt others' learning or threaten to tear down the norms of diligence that support instructional programs.

This tension is inherent to K–12 schools (even advantaged private ones). Some private schools protect their overall climate by quickly suspending or expelling kids who get out of line. But most, committed to the kids they have admitted, act much more deliberately. They give students help and many chances. Suspensions are never ruled out because they are very effective in getting some parents’ attention. But because they are understood as harmful, suspensions are brief and seldom repeated. If parents don’t respond the first time, the school tries something else.

Expulsions are never totally off the table for...

At the National Charter Schools Conference last week, Secretary of Education John King challenged U.S. charter operators to rethink their approach to discipline and “lead the way on professional reflection and growth.” Though I’ve frequently expressed my worries about the rush to reform the nation’s approach to school discipline, the secretary’s comments were measured and constructive. I was particularly struck by his insistence that there not be any “hard and fast rules or directives.” (He might want to share the speech with his own Office for Civil Rights, which could be renamed the Office for Hard and Fast Rules and Directives.)

Helping charter schools examine and improve their discipline practices is praiseworthy; making them change their approach via top-down dictates is not. (Though I’m really talking about suspensions; expulsions are a different matter, as we do need to worry about open-enrollment public schools pushing kids out.) In my view, it’s totally inappropriate for regulators—especially the feds, but also school authorizers—to get heavy-handed on the suspensions issue, for at least five reasons:

  1. The school discipline data collected by the Office for Civil Rights are notoriously fishy; attaching stakes to them will make them even more so because people work to report the data
  2. ...

With her nonstop knack for making waves, getting noticed, and possibly even advancing the interests of her members, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten is now on the warpath against hedge fund managers. “Why,” she asks, “would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?” So her union is discouraging teacher pension funds—which invest many billions—from doing business with hedge funds led by people who do things she disapproves of. Those include supporting charter schools and pushing lawmakers to reform public sector pensions and expand the tax deductibility of donations to private schools.

As with the squalid crusade on some college campuses and churches to make endowment managers stop investing in firms that do business with Israel, one must ask whether the political ends being pursued justify investment portfolio changes that may diminish future returns. One hedge fund chieftain likened the Weingarten campaign to “hiring a dentist because of their political beliefs. You may see eye to eye on politics, but you may not have great, straight teeth.”

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, one of the AFT’s largest locals remains at war with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, waging a strike on April Fool’s Day. Farther west, the United...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the second half of a two-part interview (the first half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: Mike Feinberg had started KIPP as a kind of “classroom-within-a-school” program, and he needed support to expand and grow. There is a story of him sitting on your car and grading while he asked you for more space to grow his program. What did he say to you to convince you that you should invest in him—and that it wouldn't be a disaster?

Rod Paige: Well, there were two Teach For America teachers, Mike Feinberg and David Levin, both teaching in elementary schools in the east part of the city. They had provided a lot of innovative programs and activities for the students in their fifth-grade...

Editor’s note: This interview was originally posted on June 19, 2013, two and a half years into Kaya Henderson’s successful tenure as chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. She announced her resignation yesterday, and you’ll read many articles detailing her numerous accomplishments as helmswoman of the city’s school system—and rightly so. Yet she also ought to be honored for the kind of person she is, and this interview does just that.

For this week’s BTCIK, I wanted to celebrate the close of another school year by shining light on a true school leader—someone who’s taught, supported teachers, supported schools, and run schools.

Kaya Henderson District of Columbia Public Schools

So we’re lucky enough to have as a guest Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Like so many involved in this work, she is a passionate advocate for the interests of kids in need. But she’s been able to turn that commitment into a number of groundbreaking accomplishments—growing TFA, launching TNTP, crafting and implementing IMPACT, and more.

There’s no doubt that were she to decide to hang up her ed-reform cleats now and apply her talents elsewhere—God forbid!—she’d be a first-ballot Hall of...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the first half of a two-part interview (second half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: The first charter law was passed in 1991, and Texas's charter law passed in 1995. When you were the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, do you remember the first time you heard about charter schools and what you thought about them?

Secretary Rod Paige: A couple of years before that, I read about charter schools in the press, and the idea impressed me even before the Texas legislature started to talk about it. I was excited about the idea because I thought it was a way to increase innovation in schools, a way to unleash the ideas that a lot of teachers...

Scott J. Peters

Gifted education has an identity problem.

If you ask many people, gifted programs exist because “gifted” students have unique needs. But what does this mean? And what is the overall purpose of K–12 gifted education? Even within the gifted education community, the actual outcomes of “gifted” programs are too often unclear, leading to charges of ineffectiveness at best and outright discrimination at worst.

Competing priorities

In one sense, gifted services exist to develop advanced abilities—to provide interventions to those students who need them in order to develop excellence. Some students have unmet academic needs, that’s where gifted education kicks in. Makes sense, right? However, the kids served in gifted programs are disproportionally from white, Asian, and higher-income families. This is a problem for political and advocacy reasons, but also because the majority of American students now come from low-income or racial/ethnic minority families. If the U.S. educational system can’t develop the talents of African American, Latino, or low-income students, what good is it?

In gifted education, there is often tension between two implied goals: developing excellence and promoting equity. In a recent Gifted Child Quarterly article, my colleague Kenneth Engerrand and I tried to come up with a way

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Paul Tough’s 2012 book How Children Succeed helped popularize the notion that non-cognitive skills like resilience, perseverance, and conscientiousness could be as important to student success as performance on math and reading exams. Tough viewed character strengths as a tool that low-income and minority children can use to overcome enormous adversity.

His sequel, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, expands on these ideas by asking: “Now that we know this, what do we do?” The book’s central tenet is that educators must compensate for the shortcomings in a student’s home environment in order to foster his character strengths. Tough argues that character can’t be taught in the same way as math: “There’s no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control.” Rather, such qualities are presented as psychological attributes that are products of a child’s home, daycare, and school.

Tough draws on new research from the fields of neuroscience, education, early childhood development, and psychology to highlight the effects of “toxic stress” caused by unstable home and family settings. These problems manifest in school through cycles of anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior.

The book’s strength is its effective and succinct depiction of what...

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