A new analysis from the Manhattan Institute’s Scott Winship shows that, measured correctly, the U.S. child poverty rate declined from 13.1 percent in 1996 to 7.8 percent in 2014—a drop of almost two-fifths.

This has huge implications for many policy areas, including education reform, and it’s a development that all parties must wrestle with.

For the teachers’ unions and other traditional education groups, it raises hard questions about their familiar contention that America’s lackluster student achievement is due to poverty—that we must “fix poverty first” before our schools will improve. We haven’t fixed poverty, but we have most certainly decreased it.

It also raises hard questions for reformers about why we haven’t seen greater progress in student outcomes over the past twenty years, considering that these socioeconomic trends should put the wind at our backs. We like to point to achievement gains in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially for the poorest and lowest-performing students, as evidence that testing and accountability boosted learning.

But what if that was only part of the story?

Let’s excavate a bit deeper. Ramesh Ponnuru has a great overview of Winship’s study at Bloomberg View. Ponnuru writes, “The Census Bureau’s official measurements, it is true,...

The Fordham Institute’s new report, High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, examines whether states' current or planned accountability systems for elementary and middle schools attend to the needs of high-achieving students, as well as how these systems might be redesigned under the Every Student Succeeds Act to better serve all students. It finds that the overwhelming majority of states provide schools with few incentives to focus on their high-achieving students. This is a problem.

Accountability has been a central theme of education reform for almost two decades, driven by the unchallenged central finding of James Coleman’s seminal 1966 study: Although some interventions are demonstrably more effective than others, there’s no direct link between what goes into a school by way of resources and what comes out by way of student learning. Sage policy makers have recognized that trying to micromanage school and district “inputs” is a waste of time. Instead, the prudent course is to (a) clearly state the results that educational institutions ought to produce, (b) assess how satisfactorily those results are being achieved, and then (c) hold schools and school systems to account, with rewards of various sorts for success and...

A robust communications channel for gifted education has taken flight. Designed to illuminate conversations on gifted and talented children and mobilize support for them to reach their potential, The High Flyer is a unique collaboration between the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Our two organizations unite around common goals: to expand the public’s understanding of the needs of gifted and talented children, to increase public urgency to serve them, and to dispel common myths.

In the Fordham analysis released today, High Stakes for High Achievers, the data makes clear that it’s time for states to focus on gifted students. Among the findings, we’re struck particularly by this sad reality: Only five states treat high-achieving students as a subgroup and separately report their results at the school level.

The National Research Center on Gifted Education found recently that it is virtually impossible for a student who lives in poverty, is an English learner, and belongs to a minority group to be identified and served in a gifted and talented program. Giftedness exists in all populations, and education is the great equalizer. We have a moral obligation to help children who come from disadvantaged...

A new policy paper from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) explores how state education agencies (SEAs) can take advantage of their unique position to foster improved district-charter collaboration.

The authors lament, as did we in a recent report, that district and charter leaders are too often tearing chunks out of one another rather than finding ways to work together. Whether the endgame should be an all-charter system, as in New Orleans, or some kind of side-by-side system, as in Washington, D.C., most cities will have to find a working balance between the two sectors.

The paper makes a series of policy recommendations for how SEAs could facilitate this balance and act on the increased authority granted to them by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). They could, for example, use their unique position to tie financial and accountability incentives to collaboration efforts, provide cover for school districts in places where local politics are toxic, and remove state legal impediments to district-charter collaboration. ESSA also gives states the more flexibility to allot funding, design accountability systems, and adopt other constructive policies (like unified enrollment or facilities sharing) that promote district-charter collaboration.

The authors then point to examples like Florida’s...

A new analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality and the Brookings Institution examines the demographic gap between the current teaching workforce and students; its causes; ways to close it; and whether it will grow or shrink in the future. To do this, researchers pulled together data from a wide variety of sources, including the Census and National Center for Education Statistics, and used both descriptive analyses and projections.

Research clearly shows that regular interactions between students and adults of their own and different races is beneficial for academic achievement and behavior. Thus, the authors take as given that having a diverse workforce, in which teacher demographics mirror those of the student population, is a common goal for schools. (At the same time, the authors acknowledge that diversity does not supersede teacher quality as a driver of positive outcomes.)

The authors find that the pool of available minority teachers does not match the diversity of students now, and they predict that the mismatch will grow in the future. Minority students make up half of the public school student population, while minority teachers constitute only 18 percent of the workforce. The gap is particularly large for Hispanic students—at present, 26...

According to this report from the Center for American Progress, high school seniors are more likely to read young adult staples like The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent than Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Hamlet. As surprises go, this is roughly the equivalent of learning that Americans choose beer and chicken wings over quinoa and kale smoothies. The trouble is that this lightweight fare (the inevitable result of student self-selection) leaves students ill-prepared for the rigors of college reading.

There is “a stark gap between the complexity of texts that high school students are reading and of those that they will confront in college and their careers,” notes Melissa Lazarin, the report’s author and a CAP senior policy advisor. “Students reading at the average level of high school texts…may be comfortable with as little as 5 percent of university-level texts and with only one-quarter of the texts that they would encounter in the military or the workplace.” Common Core was supposed to help close these gaps, so what’s happening? The new standards are giving students “regular practice with complex and grade-level appropriate texts, using more informational texts, and practicing more evidence-based writing,” she observes. They are also “influencing the way teachers approach instruction.” But despite these encouraging signs,...

Capped by recent reports that Superintendent Dallas Dance wants to drop the "gifted and talented" label altogether, Baltimore County Public Schools' recent undoing of its elementary gifted education program is a classic example of moving American K–12 schooling in the wrong direction—and doing so in the name of equity.

Last year, BCPS jettisoned its decades-long practice of funneling high-achieving second graders into separate, accelerated math and reading classes. Many stayed on that path through high school, but it was deemed unfair because it smacks of "tracking" and gifted classrooms didn't contain enough minority youngsters.

Instead, high achievers will now remain in classes with their lower-achieving peers in grades 3–5, increasing the burden on teachers, who must "differentiate" instruction for all levels in classes with as many as twenty-five pupils.

Teachers try to cope by placing students in groups within their classrooms, differentiating by achievement or ability, and then doing their best to instruct each group in the skills and knowledge prescribed for that grade. Six times each year, they can rearrange groups based on children's progress (or struggle) in each subject.

The impetus for this change was the view that too many kids—particularly minority children—were relegated to low-level coursework with no hope...

Dear Mark and Priscilla,

Apologies for again interrupting your summer peace, but my respected friend Marc Tucker—in his open letter to you taking issue with my earlier missive—sorely misinterpreted or misstated one of my central points. I must at least try to set the record straight (I’ll also take the liberty of demurring from Marc’s well-intended advice in a couple of other areas).

First, to correct the record: Marc has me “urg[ing] you [and Chan Zuckerberg] to provide scholarships, supplemental learning opportunities, and great summer programs for poor kids from low-income communities.”

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Marc’s a smart guy who is deeply informed about many things and often right about them. But he should have read my piece more closely, Common Core-style. Here’s what I wrote:

If a philanthropist wants simply to “do good” in the education space, none of this matters. It’s a no-brainer to underwrite a building, a professorship, a scholarship, a summer program, a lecture series, a roomful of laptops, a field trip, or a gala recognition dinner. You can get thanked, praised, photographed, tweeted about, or liked on Facebook…. All those sorts of things are easy and generally without controversy, much less rancor.

But it wasn’t—and...

Sally Krisel

The games of the thirty-first Olympiad are over. Maybe now I will be able to catch up on my sleep! For two weeks I stayed up way too late, spellbound by the competition between the world’s greatest athletes. I loved the world records, the close finishes, the upsets, the rivalries, and the camaraderie. I loved the emotion. But even more than these, I loved the stories—stories of athletes who excelled against the odds, who came back to compete after everyone said they were too old, who sacrificed so much to be Olympians. The stories of individual athletes kept me awake even after I was finally able to turn off the TV. As I replayed in my head the accounts of various athletes’ journeys to Rio, I reflected on the parallels between elite-level athletics and gifted education, and I thought how much we could learn about developing exceptional ability from what we saw during those two weeks.

Let’s consider just two of the athletes who delighted us during the games—Simone Biles, now the most decorated American gymnast in history, and Michelle Carter, American record holder and gold medalist in the shot put. At first glance, could two women be any more different? Biles,...

Marc Tucker

Dear Mark and Priscilla:

In a recent open letter, the Fordham Institute's Checker Finn warns you against trying to reform our public school districts, which he describes as impossible to change, even with the scale of funding that you can bring to the table. The old wisdom, he says, was that private foundations could be “pilot fish” for government, charting a path with independent money that could then leverage large amounts of public money. But even when the leviathan Gates Foundation, acting in concert with the Broad Foundation, joined forces with the Arnie Duncan’s U.S. Department of Education, trading staff and ideas back and forth, nothing much, he says, was achieved.

Better, Finn says, to “just avoid government entirely.” You should be using your resources to “press for change outside the district structure.” He means, he says, charter schools. But he says you should be thinking about chartering in a larger sense, with entities that will “advance the education of kids with all sorts of different needs, interests, and possibilities…Likewise with alternative pathways into education.” He cites as examples Teach For America and New Leaders.

Finn notes that advocates from both the right and the left lament the separation...