Summer learning loss affects all children, but low-income students, who don’t have the same access to enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers, tend to fall further behind during these months, widening the already yawning achievement gaps. Voluntary summer learning programs are one way to combat this slide.

A new study from the Wallace Foundation and RAND Corporation takes a look at five such programs in different urban school districts around the U.S. (Boston, MA; Rochester, NY; Pittsburg, PA; Dallas, TX; and Duval County, FL) and determines what factors were most likely to produce successful results. While the district’s programs may have varied in their approaches, there were several consistent factors among them. All were full-day, five-day-a-week, free-of-charge voluntary programs that lasted a minimum of five weeks. They all also provided three hours of academic instruction a day from certified teachers in small classes no larger than fifteen students. They even offered free transportation and meals, along with various enrichment activities such as art, music, and sports.

The study included 5,637 rising fourth graders, 3,192 of whom were randomly selected to partake in the programs for two consecutive summers (the treatment group), while the rest, who were not selected, were...

“As policies are debated, we often have to rely on research that is ill-suited to the task. Its methodology is frequently too weak to form a firm foundation for policy,” write Sarah Cohodes and Susan Dynarski in this Brookings brief on Massachusetts’s ballot proposal to lift the state’s charter cap. “This is not one of those times.” To the contrary, they note, “it is hard to think of an education policy for which the evidence is more clear.”

Well, thanks for clearing that up.

Like many states, Massachusetts sets a cap on the number of charter schools, as well as the share of district funds that can be spent on charters. A “smart cap” established in 2010 prioritizes applications from charter operators with a proven track record that wish to expand in low-performing districts. At present, there are seventy-eight charter schools in Massachusetts, while tens of thousands of students languish on waiting lists. The ballot initiative would raise the cap, allowing twelve new charters to be approved and opened each year.

If improving outcomes for underserved kids is your goal, voting to raise the cap would appear to be a no-brainer. Massachusetts is home to some of the nation’s highest...

What happens to talented students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds? American education reform has focused on students reaching minimal levels of proficiency, but it has failed to engage and support the most promising children from overlooked communities. The result is an incalculable injustice to our kids and our nation.

On Wednesday, September 7, the Institute for Education Policy, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and the Ingenuity Project hosted a conversation in Baltimore on why the “excellence gap” is worthy of attention from educators, policy makers, and the civil rights community.

Participants included:

  • Jonathan A. Plucker, Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development, School of Education and Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University
  • James L. Moore, III, EHE Distinguished Professor of Urban Education and Executive Director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, The Ohio State University
  • Mike Petrilli, President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; and Executive Editor, Education Next
  • Ariel Bowers, Integration and Test Engineer, James Webb Space Telescope; and Ingenuity Project, Class of 2009
  • David Steiner, Executive Director, Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy

The discussion was anchored in Jonathan Plucker’s latest book, Excellence Gaps in Education: Expanding Opportunities for Talented Students,...

Last October, we lamented New York City’s neglect of high-ability students, particularly in its low-income neighborhoods. Since then, the district and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have taken steps to mitigate the problem.

Unfortunately, their efforts fall way short.

We surfaced multiple problems in Gotham’s approach to gifted-and-talented education, beginning with the once-a-year entrance exams that determine admission to the city’s skimpy and badly distributed supply of such opportunities for primary and middle school students.

Scored with a single citywide cutoff level, it’s a disaster for poor kids. In parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, for example, just 14 percent of test-takers passed the January 2016 test. In parts of the South Bronx, it was 15 percent. Yet on Manhattan’s Upper East and West Sides, a whopping 46 percent reached the threshold.

These wealth-correlated pass rates mirror the city’s supply of gifted-education opportunities. Four of the poorest of Gotham’s thirty-two school districts have no gifted program to speak of, and many others have too few and do little to get the word out about those they’ve got.

This summer, Fariña and company launched an experimental program to make these programs more inclusive by targeting ill-served neighborhoods, such as those mentioned above and...

By Jonathan Plucker, Matthew Makel, Karen Rambo-Hernandez, Michael Matthews, and Scott Peters

Nearly all aspects of America’s schools are built upon age-based grade levels and corresponding grade-level expectations: standards, instruction, curriculum, and assessment, among others. This reinforces the implicit message that performing on grade level is the primary purpose of schooling. Yet it also ignores an important question: How many students already perform one or more years above grade level on their first day of school?

The answer to this question has profound implications for American education policy and for the organization of schools. If a mere 2 percent of students perform above grade level, for example, the present obsession with grade-level proficiency might make sense. But what if it were a far larger proportion? If one in every five students has surpassed that criterion before the school year even starts, policymakers would need to re-think the merits of an age-based, grade-level focus.

In a recent policy brief, four colleagues addressed this question and found that very large percentages of students (between 15 percent and 45 percent) are performing above grade level—and that these percentages represent staggeringly large numbers of students. In California alone, for example, this group comprises more than 1.4 million pupils.

To reach these conclusions, we examined five...

In a searing exposé, reminiscent of Upton Sinclair and the heyday of journalistic muckraking, the Houston Chronicle has assembled persuasive evidence that Texas has placed a de facto cap of 8.5 percent on the number of kids who can be placed in special education. Assuming it’s true—state officials seemed to waffle, fiddle, and redefine when asked tough questions by the reporter—this would go a long way toward explaining why the Lone Star State has for years had a rate of special-ed placements below just about everyplace else in the union, and far below a handful of jurisdictions (such as Massachusetts) that are pushing 20 percent. The national figure is about 13 percent, but the state-to-state variability is wide—although Texas, along with California and a handful of others, has long been a low-end outlier.

The protestations, lamentations, and handwringing that swiftly followed were to be expected—Matt Ladner weighed in (on Jay Greene’s blog) within hours, for example, terming Texas “nothing short of disgraceful” and urging that it try Florida-style special-ed vouchers—and the feds will surely look into whether Texas has violated the Individuals...

Dr. Sal Mendaglio

Editor’s note: This post is an excerpt from the Summer 2016 issue of Parenting for High Potential.

Parents of gifted children are often concerned about their children’s anxiety, and with good reason. Research indicates that 12% to 20% of all children experience anxiety severe enough to refer them for treatment, and approximately 3% to 5% of all children are diagnosed with a variety of anxiety disorders.

Regrettably, children do not always express their anxiety in the form of “Mom, I am anxious,” or “Dad, I am afraid.” Their expression of anxiety—or lack of expression—depends largely on the child’s makeup, and is often expressed in different ways. Some children cry or behave aggressively, while others withdraw from the situation.

Though research on anxiety does not indicate the number of gifted children included in studies, it’s reasonable to assume that representative samples include children who are gifted. While the experience of anxiety is disturbing enough, if untreated, anxiety can cause serious consequences such as academic underachievement, substance abuse, and increased risk of other psychiatric disorders.

Sources of Anxiety in Children

Researchers have identified several general sources of anxiety in children. These sources include genetics, child temperament, parent-child early attachment, parental...

I respect Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, am glad to be a long-time citizen of his state, agree with most of his policies and priorities, and appreciate his appointing me to the State Board of Education. But in all seriousness, and as many others have already noted, he shouldn’t monkey with school calendars.

I understand that state attorney general Brian Frosh (until recently my neighbor) is examining the question of whether the Governor’s executive order is binding. I have no view on that, except that I would hate for the whole matter to become a political football. To me, it’s a solemn issue of sound education policy.  

Viewed that way, I see two main reasons why requiring (almost) all Maryland public schools to start after Labor Day and end by June 15 is misguided.

First, setting calendars that work for particular communities is a quintessential element of “local control.” Maryland leaves many matters to localities that I believe would be better decided for the state as a whole, but this one—like personnel decisions, instructional methods, and school closings (and openings)—is one that’s best decided close to home and adjusted to local circumstances. All sorts of variables bear on...

A report recently released by the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution delves into the complex process behind designing and scoring cognitive assessments. Author Brian Jacobs illuminates the difficult choices developers face when creating tests—and how those choices impact test results.

Understanding exam scores should be a simple enough task. A student is given a test, he answers a percentage of questions correctly, and he receives a score based on that percentage. Yet for modern cognitive assessments (think SAT, SBAC, and PARCC), the design and scoring processes are much more complicated.

Instead of simple fractions, these tests use complex statistical models to measure and score student achievement. These models—and other elements, such as test length—alter the distribution (or the spread) of reported test scores. Therefore, when creating a test, designers are responsible for making decisions regarding test length and scoring models that impact exam results and consequently affect future education policy.

Test designers can choose from a variety of statistical models to create a scoring system for a cognitive assessment. Each model distributes test scores in a different way, but the purpose behind each is the same: reduce the margin of error and provide a more accurate representation of...

This new study, the product of a partnership between District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and researchers at New York University and the University of Maryland (including Dr. June Ahn, author of our recent report Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools), examines how students’ use of educational software affects their achievement.

In 2012, DCPS began to implement a web-based mathematics program called “First in Math” (FIM) for students in grades K–8. The initiative consisted of games centered on basic computational skills and concepts like fractions or decimals. The authors examine student-level usage data, including how much time students spent on the FIM system, which modules they completed, and what achievements (like points, collecting “badges,” or unlocking bonus games) they earned at various points in the school year. That information was combined with student-level data, such as gender, English language learner status, special education status, race, grade level, and achievement on the mathematics component of the DC-Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS). The final sample included approximately 9,200 students in Grades 4–8 during the 2012–13 school year.

The analysis reveals some intriguing findings. Time spent using FIM had a small but significant positive relationship with performance on standardized mathematics assessments, even...