Steve V. Coxon

America’s pipeline for STEM talent is happily expanding, but many groups remain severely underrepresented. This leads to huge disparities in the applicant pool for STEM careers. One reason is clear: family wealth.

Poverty squanders a wealth of STEM potential in childhood. In 2012, 21 percent of children in the U.S. lived in poverty, and that number is increasing. Poverty restricts academic promise in a variety of ways, including inadequate healthcare, lack of access to high-quality preschool and day care, a paucity of school resources, fewer good teachers, and increased school bureaucracy. Despite these disadvantages, there are still more than a million poor children nationwide who rank in the top quartile academically when they start school. Unfortunately, only about half of these children will remain there by the end of fifth grade, and they are twice as likely to drop out of high school as their middle class peer of the same ability. While many have the potential to pursue STEM, the odds are stacked against them.

To ensure that children from low-income families are included in the STEM talent pipeline, we need to start early, provide engaging STEM activities beyond the school day, and connect with families. Certainly by age...

Michael B. Horn

Last week, I offered thoughts on the Fordham Institute’s research paper on e-schools in Ohio, “Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio’s Virtual Charter Schools.”

It is a strong study. As I wrote, however, it suffers from four significant data limitations—none the fault of the analysts, but instead arising from inadequacies intrinsic to the data that are currently available to measure the outcomes of e-school students—that should give us pause.

It’s worth discussing one of those limitations in more depth, as well as exploring the policy implications of Fordham’s study.

Understanding students’ jobs to be done

The study controls for both the demographic and prior achievement variables of e-school students that are measured at the state level. This is useful for giving us a window into the quality of a school on average, but it misses the full circumstances in which a student enrolls in a full-time virtual school. In our research on innovation, we refer to this underlying causal reason as the student’s “job to be done.” It therefore does not allow researchers—and this report in particular—to actually compare like situations and results.

Demographic data often misleads researchers. In business, for example, most companies simply look at...

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to use “another indicator of student success or school quality,” in addition to test scores and graduation rates, when determining school grades. This is in line with the commonsensical notion that achievement in reading, writing, and math, while an important measure, surely doesn’t encapsulate the whole of what we want schools to accomplish for our young people. Reformers and traditional education groups alike have enthusiastically sought to encourage schools to focus more on “non-cognitive” attributes like grit or perseverance, or social and emotional learning, or long-term outcomes like college completion.

We at Fordham wondered whether charter schools might have something to teach the states about finding well-rounded indicators of school quality. After all, when charter schools first entered the scene in the pre-No Child Left Behind era, the notion was that their “charters” would identify student outcomes to be achieved that would match the mission and character of each individual school. Test scores might play a role, but they surely wouldn’t be the only measure.

As the head of Fordham’s authorizing shop in Dayton, I set out to determine which indicators the best charter school authorizers in the nation were using—measures that transcended...

Jeanne Paynter, Ed.D.

We should all know by now that the “differentiation in the regular classroom” model doesn’t work in practice. The Baltimore County Schools’ move (back) to this approach may be well-intentioned, but as Fordham’s Brandon Wright has written, “the real victims are gifted, disadvantaged youngsters…who depend most heavily on the public education system to do right by them.”

While Fordham and others have helped define the problem, I want to offer a practitioner’s solution that has worked in Baltimore classrooms and will work in your school system as well. It’s called the Catalyst Gifted and Talented Education Resource Teacher program, and it places highly trained and motivated gifted specialists in Title I elementary schools with the specific mission of discovering and developing talent. I’ve witnessed its impact in identifying talented low-income and minority students, including them in advanced curricula, educating Title I school teachers and parents about giftedness, and even raising school test scores.

When I became the county’s gifted and talented education program coordinator, the superintendent asked me to produce a research-based elementary program and curriculum that could be offered in every school in the county. We developed a handbook of prescribed but inclusive identification procedures, as well...

The big news to emerge from the forty-eighth annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools is that when a public school has been failing for a number of years, Americans would prefer to try to fix it by a six-to-one margin rather than to close it. More than any other finding in the poll, PDK says this result “exemplifies the divide between the reform agenda of the past sixteen years and the actual desires of the American public.” I’m not completely convinced. If school choice of any kind weren’t so utterly foreign to the experience of an overwhelming majority of Americans (nearly three out of four of us have no public school of choice available whatsoever), I’d be more surprised by the result. You’d likely get a similar ratio if you polled 1,221 adult Americans, as PDK has, and asked, “Given the option, would you like to have your home’s leaky roof and faulty wiring repaired? Or would you prefer to have your home condemned?” Without some clear sense of the alternative, you’d likely opt to stay put too. But let me not quibble too strenuously. The finding is noteworthy enough and surely says something about the disconnect...

A new report uncovers some good news about narrowing socioeconomic gaps in kindergarten readiness.

It compares the early life experiences of incoming kindergarteners in 1998 with those in 2010 using two large, nationally representative data sets called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). The data include survey information from a child’s parents and his/her teachers, as well as results from assessments of skills administered multiple times during kindergarten and elementary school.

Analysts examine, among other things, various readiness gaps at the tenth and ninetieth percentiles of the income distribution. For the most part, the data showed many encouraging signs: Across the board, analysts found that both high- and low-income young children in the 2010 cohort were exposed to more books and reading in the home than their 1998 peers. They also had more access to educational games on computers, and they engaged with their parents more both inside and outside the home.

These developments took shape despite the fact that other negative shifts in family characteristics have occurred in the twelve years between samples. Among families at the tenth percentile, the likelihood that a mother was married at the time of a child’s birth dropped five percentage points; fathers in...

June 4 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Minnesota's charter school law, the nation's first. In 1990, charter pioneer Ted Kolderie foresaw that chartering would "introduce the dynamics of choice, competition, and innovation into America's public school system, while at the same time ensuring that new schools serve broad public purposes."

A quarter-century later, forty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed such laws, and 6,800 charter schools educate almost three million children. Remarkably, charters account for the entire enrollment growth in American public education since 2006. District schools actually lost students during this time, as did some private schools.

Thus far, the mission that chartering has carried out with greatest success and acclaim has been to place tens of thousands of disadvantaged children on a path to college and upward mobility. In fact, charters today primarily serve low-income children of color—the kids who typically fare worst in big-district systems. For reasons of both equity and politics, many state charter laws give priority to schools that focus on such students, while some confine chartering to core cities.

University of Michigan economist Susan Dynarski put it this way: "In urban areas, where students are overwhelmingly low-achieving, poor, and nonwhite, charter schools...

It is not reasonable to expect research to resolve all issues or to erase all differences of opinion. We can but supply some information that we think reliable, and we will continue in the future to supply more. But it is up to the American people to decide what to do. The better their information, the wiser will be their decisions.

So wrote my colleague Chester Finn in his introduction to a compendium of research findings about teaching and learning.

The book was called What Works, and it was published in March.

March of 1986.

In the thirty years since, America has gone through several waves of reform, but we’re still talking about establishing research-based practices in our schools. Figuring out how to do this better is another way that reformers and funders might improve our education system without overhauling laws and regulations. (I’ve identified other tactics, besides policy change, for reforming our schools, namely building a new system via charters or education savings accounts; spurring disruptive innovations that target students, parents, or teachers directly; and investing in leadership.)

No, it’s not easy. Policy makers can exhort educators to adopt “evidence-based practices,”...

Jonathan Butcher

Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice

Those debating reforms to American education should remember this memorial to Sir Christopher Wren, architect of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wren is buried inside his masterpiece with no marking other than the inscription: If you seek a monument, look around.

Some education reform advocates are starting to wonder whether the long battle to increase parental choice in schooling (among other things) is really making a difference, particularly in light of the growing criticism of public charter schools. Despite recent victories giving students more opportunities in education, Robert Pondiscio recently accused reformers of “cowardice”—of having lost their will to fight.

Yet in states around the country, families and advocates still struggle on students’ behalf. Parental choice in education has seen great successes, and stories of students’ changed lives and parents’ acts of courage are all around us.

Let’s start in Washington State. In 2015, a successful union lawsuit shut down the state’s new charter school law. Prior to the ruling, unionized Seattle teachers went on strike just as the school year began, leaving charter schools the only public schools in the city open for business. District schools forced students to stay home, disrupting their...

Sally Krisel

Throughout the recent Olympic Games, 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. We appreciate diverse forms of brilliance on the field, in the pool, on the court, and on the track. And we support the long-term dedication of time and resources it takes to achieve athletic excellence. And yet we wonder why, as a society, we have had a harder time openly embracing and celebrating the development of intellectual and creative talent.

It has been suggested that the answer lies in some vague (I would suggest misguided) discomfort related to our nation’s egalitarian roots. Supporters of gifted education counter with the argument that there is something decidedly undemocratic about not providing all children—including those of exceptional ability—with equal opportunity to develop their talents.

A second argument—one that came to mind many times when Rio commentators talked about records that fell during the games—is that by investing heavily in the kinds of programs that promote exceptional performance from gifted students, we may indeed be showing the way to much-improved educational experiences (and achievement) for all students. This argument may finally...