‘Tis a time of celebration, reflection, gift-giving, and—swiftly thereafter—planning and resolving for the year to come.

Let’s include in those reflections and resolutions some extra attention to the oft-neglected demographic subset we might simply call smart poor kids. They so often fall through a crack between two common assumptions in American education: (1) that “gifted and talented” education is something that’s mostly about able but also privileged middle class youngsters with pushy parents (i.e., that it’s an elitist thing); and (2) the belief that smart high achievers will generally do fine on their own and hence the formal education system should focus laser-like on the laggards and those on the lower edge of the achievement gap.

What gets left out are millions of able kids who, for reasons entirely beyond their control, aren’t middle class, lack sophisticated and aggressive adults to steer them through the education system, and who therefore depend heavily on that system to notice what they’re capable of and cultivate their abilities to the max. All of which was made worse by No Child Left Behind with its single-minded fixation on getting kids over the proficiency bar.

Why bother thinking differently about it now?

  • There’s an equity
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Earlier this month, Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success released a report assessing states’ ESSA plans. As The 74 reported, their reviews found them “largely lackluster,” a judgment that, at first blush, seems to conflict with Fordham’s own generally positive review of all fifty-one ESSA accountability plans. But don’t rely on first blushes.

The key word in the preceding paragraph is “accountability,” which distinguishes our report from theirs and mostly explains why ours was more positive. Although both reports looked at accountability, Fordham’s looked only at accountability—and only at select aspects of it—and we had good reasons for restricting our analysis in this way.

Both projects assessed “Consolidated State Plans” that states sent to the U.S. Department of Education as part of their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. These submissions were typically more than one hundred pages long, and each set forth its state’s intentions in myriad areas, including assessments, accountability, long-term goals, school turnarounds, instructional support, teacher equity, programs for at-risk students, rural education, and much more.

One problem with reviewing everything in these plans—and a reason, we suspect, why neither report did—is that they’re basically big, complex compliance exercises. They...

The past year has been frantic and fraught, and that was no less true for education. Politically charged debates raged over perennial contentious issues like school discipline and school choice, as well as newer topics like the Every Student Succeeds Act and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

These topics and more show up in the two lists that follow, which comprise fifteen of our most-read articles. The first ten articles come from Fordham staff members, and the last five were written by guests.

The top ten Fordham-authored posts of 2017

1. David Brooks and the language of privilege, by Robert Pondiscio

Responding to New York Times columnist David Brooks, Robert Pondiscio challenged the assertion that the parenting styles of privileged Americans, the so-called “pediacracy,” is ruining America for the rest of us. This provocative piece also prompted a conversation around privilege in education, with responses on Education Post, Joanne Jacobs’s blog, and Fordham’s own Flypaper.

2. Counting down the top 5 education issues for 2017, by Aaron Churchill

Readers’ top five issues were school accountability, e-schools, the new federal administration, ESSA, and charters and choice—predictions that turned out to be rather prescient.

3. ...

A new working paper from the Stanford Graduate School of Education uses roughly 300 million state math and English language arts test scores from 2009–15 for students in third through eighth grade in over 11,000 school districts across the country to take a really-big-picture look at patterns of academic achievement. The analysis allows users to compare the growth rates across U.S. school districts, a view of educational quality that is rarely seen at a national level. The findings—broken down over time, by geography, and into various subgroups—should be of interest to all education stakeholders.

The data come from NAEP and state assessments via the National Center for Education Statistics and exclude only the smallest districts for whom data on test scores and/or socioeconomic status (SES) are not available due to small sample sizes. Data on students in bricks-and-mortar charter schools are also included, rolled into the data of the district in which each school is located. Data on students in online charter schools, which enroll without regard to district boundaries, is excluded. The author of the study estimates that the data account for almost 99 percent of all public school students.

The best news comes from the temporal analysis:...

Charter opponents have long argued that school choice increases racial isolation in America’s public schools. Earlier this month, for example, the AP released an unsophisticated analysis that supported this hypothesis. (That misleading story was swiftly discredited.) Related to this issue, Brookings has followed up a previous report, “Segregation, race, and charter schools: What do we know?,” with a study comparing the racial compositions of schools with their surrounding neighborhoods. It’s more rigorous and nuanced than the AP report, although it also risks further confusing the rhetoric in such an important and politically charged debate.

The analysts created their own measurement index for their comparison, using 2013–14 NCES Data for student enrollment and demographic information and 2010 data from the National Historic Geographic Information System (NHGIS) to determine neighborhood composition. NHGIS data are broken down into small census blocks. For purposes of this study, a school’s neighborhood includes all census blocks within two miles of a school that are also within the same school district. These demographics are then compared to school demographics to determine the “racial imbalance measure.” Each school has a racial imbalance score for white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and other race students.

The analysts...

With reading and math scores that top the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a majority of the workforce holding college degrees, and international test scores that compete with leading countries, it is clear that Massachusetts produces some of the best education outcomes in the country.

Its ascent to the top began in the 1990s with a series of reforms that transformed its K–12 education system. To explore how state leaders were able to pull this off (as well as what challenges remain), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute hosted a discussion featuring David Driscoll, former Massachusetts commissioner of education and the author of the new book Commitment and Common Sense; Bill Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board; Jim Peyser, current secretary of education for Massachusetts and a veteran of the events recounted in Driscoll’s book; David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy; and Mieka Wick, CEO of CityBridge Education (also an alumna of the Driscoll education department.) The discussion yielded ample food-for-consideration by other states as they dive into implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Fordham President Emeritus Checker Finn moderated. A few emerging lessons follow:

Lesson one: Grow a thick skin...

In 1970, the celebrated economist Albert O. Hirschman published Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. A few years ago, the Hoover Institution’s Williamson Evers explained its argument on the Education Next blog:

Hirschman discusses how individuals react when services they rely on deteriorate. The basic responses available to us are “exit” and “voice,” Hirschman points out, where exit means turning to a different provider or leaving the area, and voice means political participation.

We tend to think of these responses as stark alternatives. Hirschman, as a social scientist, wanted us to consider the interplay between them. Exit usually has lower costs than voice for the individual. With exit, you can avoid the long slog of politics and simply turn to someone else or move somewhere else.

But there is a limiting case: Exit can have high costs when individuals are loyal to institutions—thus the third component in Hirschman’s trio of exit, voice, and loyalty.

I’ve been thinking about exit, voice, and loyalty lately, and how they pertain to parents of school-age children, myself included.

Those of us in education reform have generally viewed parents as either choosers or helpers—in terms of exit or loyalty. Under the former rubric:...

Ever since the federal government mandated annual standardized testing two decades ago, test preparation, i.e., instructional time spent preparing students for tests, has been hotly debated. Critics argue that it negatively affects teaching and learning by focusing instruction on rote and procedure over more complex content, while proponents contend that test prep can improve instruction if the tests themselves, and the academic standards that they assess, are rigorous and high-quality.

Oddly, there’s little research to substantiate the claims of either side. So let us welcome a recent study on these issues by David Blazar of the University of Maryland and Cynthia Pollard of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

Using data previously collected by the National Center for Teacher Effectiveness (NCTE), Blazar and Pollard analyzed two separate measures of test preparation to answer two questions. First, does test prep lead to lower-quality instruction? And, second, does it make any difference if teachers are teaching to a more cognitively demanding test? 

The researchers used teacher surveys as well as transcripts from videotaped math lessons to determine how frequently teachers engage in test prep, and what types. The survey yielded self-reported data on how often teachers engaged in five common forms of test...

Alicia Cotabish

Science is just cool. Plain and simple. You can find science at play in all our surroundings. Whether one recognizes it or not, science can explain everyday encounters like music being heard from an instrument to more obvious interactions like combustion of materials. Because of these natural occurrences, classroom teachers have the opportunity to demonstrate science in action through everyday examples. Historically, science was taught in isolation using traditional pedagogical practices. Over the last twenty-five years, teachers of science have embraced hands-on types of science activities, and integrated forms of technology (e.g., graphing calculator, probes, and the like) to increase engagement and bring relevant experiences to the science classroom. More recently, the Next Generation Science Standards have influenced how we approach the teaching of science; however, students have redefined the definition of engagement.

Today’s generation of students are living in a world of immersive technology. They prefer to receive news and information through Facebook or Instagram, and are highly engaged in self-directed learning using YouTube. Their utilization of these platforms requires teachers to reexamine their own interpretation of student engagement and hands-on learning. These types of self-directed, interest-based student activities are surely a call-to-action for all educators to seek out...

The gap in vocabulary for children growing up in poor households compared to their higher-income peers is well documented in research, especially for the youngest students just entering school. But shouldn’t the start of formal education begin to mitigate that gap? Research has shown that, unfortunately, initial gaps tend to persist, leading to a steep uphill climb by the time students are “reading to learn” in fourth grade and up. A group of researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas and San Diego State University recently studied whether the pernicious effects of socioeconomic status (SES) might negatively affect not only base vocabulary size but also the typical processes of word learning, which would serve to increase a child’s vocabulary going forward.

They recruited a group of 68 students ages 8 to 15 to take part in an experiment that required participants to use the surrounding text to identify the meaning of an unknown word. Each exercise included three sentences, all with a made-up word at the end. For example: “Pour some water in my raub.” This was the last of a three-sentence triplet designed to lead a reader to that “raub” means “cup.” All of the words...