The High Flyer

There’s no perfect solution to the quandary that New York City has long faced in trying to inject greater equity into the most meritocratic of its schools: the nine selective public high schools, eight of which (including Bronx Science and Stuyvesant) rely on scores from a single test of interested eighth graders to determine who gets admitted. Exceed the ever-changing cut score for one of these schools and you’re in; fall a fraction of a point below and you’re out.

In one important sense, it’s completely fair, much like a school’s field day. Anyone who wishes to can enter an event, everyone who does is judged on the same metric, the scoring is objective (e.g., stop watches), and the top scorers win. In another important sense, however, it’s not fair at all, because in a city with a high school population that’s predominantly African American and Hispanic, the overwhelming majority of those who win admission to these schools are Asian and white.

That unfortunate circumstance is the result of many factors, some of them beyond the reach of public policy, much less of high school admission procedures. Other key factors, however, are led by the parlous condition of many of...


This editorial was first published by the New York Daily News.

New York City’s eight selective high schools are rightfully sought after. Most consistently rank near the top of U.S. secondary schools. Their alumni include multiple Nobel laureates. Their graduates garner bountiful acceptance letters from Ivy League universities and go on to become the innovators, job creators, scientists, and leaders of tomorrow.

Each year, tens of thousands of eighth graders seek admission, which for decades has been based solely on whether an applicant gets above a cut-off score on the city’s Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). Only a few thousand make the cut.

But the racial profile of those admitted does not remotely mirror the diversity of the city’s population. Black and Hispanic youngsters comprise 67 percent of New York City students, but just 10 percent of those who attend the eight elite public high schools. Various efforts have been made over the years to fix this, but they’ve only made small dents.

Mayor de Blasio recently proposed his own remedy: overhauling the admissions process. He would scrap the SHSAT, which is taken only by students seeking admission to the specialized high schools. Instead, he’d use New York...


The buzz about mindsets, what we believe about our intelligence, has captivated parents and educators in recent years. Its message is powerful—if you believe your intelligence can grow, you will embrace challenges and achieve more. Yet, even as noted by Carol Dweck herself, this mighty notion of mindset can be misinterpreted. In discussions about giftedness and mindsets, there may also be misconceptions.

Research about praise tells us that when we praise students for their intelligence, they are likely to develop fixed mindset beliefs—the belief that your abilities do not change—and so, they are more likely to avoid challenges in order to maintain a smart identity. Using this premise, it has been argued that the gifted label itself is a form of intelligent praise that can influence challenge-avoidance. The very label provides the context that their strong abilities were “gifted” to them as innate, unchanging qualities.

These discussions and the popularity of Dweck’s work have influenced educators, blog-writers, and authors of books to assert that gifted students are especially fragile to developing fixed mindsets and miss the mark on achieving their potential. Others have also argued that students who...

Catherine Little

Each year, I have the opportunity to work with preservice teachers to provide a little bit of information for them about gifted education. During that workshop, someone always brings up the idea that one great way to work with advanced learners—particularly the teacher pleasers and “fast finishers” among them—is to have them help the other kids with their work. These developing professionals, along with some of the practicing teachers with whom they work, are secure in their belief that this approach is a win for everyone. Students are kept busy, the struggling student has individual support, and surely the gifted learner will benefit because “we all learn something better when we have to teach it to others.”

And yet when this idea comes up with gifted education professionals, their eyes roll and sighs are audible because “it is not a solution to giving both students an appropriate challenge”. Gifted education professionals, gifted students, and parents of gifted students raise their own concerns about this practice and the degree to which it provides benefits for the learners involved. The practice reflects implicit assumptions about educational benefits that are not necessarily well supported, and although some gifted students may enjoy it,...

Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D.

A disappointingly flawed Education Week story on San Francisco initiatives to reduce advanced learning opportunities in middle school math has garnered lots of attention. It’s called “A Bold Effort to End Algebra Tracking Shows Promise,” and was written by Stephen Sawchuk, who has a well-deserved reputation for being an excellent reporter. I was out of the country when it appeared, and I assumed it would burn itself out by now. But alas, Ed Week continues to circulate the article, and people continue to talk about it.

Advocates for advanced learning can learn a lot from the piece, both about how the media tends to cover topics related to advanced learning and how educators often justify anti-excellence policies. In rereading the article, my attention was drawn to Sawchuk’s many anti-intellectual dog whistles more than underlying problems with the district’s policies. Others have noted those problems—perhaps none better than Kurt Vonnegut in his short story “Harrison Bergeron”—so I’ll focus on the dog whistles.

1. The headline

Journalists usually don’t write the headlines that accompany their piece, but there’s nothing “bold” about the policy change described in the story. As I discuss below, the city’s “effort to end algebra tracking” is...

Rudy Crew

The world is getting more flooded by issues of disproportionality whether in education, politics, or opportunities to vote. A myriad of examples exist in the form of policies that pit people against each other rather than cause the steady increase in overall opportunities which comes with raising the bar for everyone.

In education, creating the proverbial level playing field that enables minority and low-income students to be identified and served in gifted education programs is critical. There are lots of children, children of color, children whose first language is not English, children living in poverty, who do not get access to gifted programs for all kinds of reasons. Either they never learn about these programs or they are not looked at as kids who ultimately could benefit from them. Many of these children have undeveloped abilities that may never be realized.

As M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, recently said, this really is a “social justice issue…children living in poverty, and from racial and ethnic and language minorities, are not getting a fair shake at getting access to gifted services.”

A study by the National Center for Research on Gifted Education found that...

Apoorva Panidapu

According to Apoorva Panidapu’s parents, their thirteen-year old daughter is a joyous person both on the face of it and to the core. Her most noticeable features are her radiant smile and her remarkable speed (except when it comes to chores).

For her parents, it seems that Apoorva is always in perpetual motion as she tries to satisfy her insatiable curiosity. By three years old, she was devouring one book after another, her father remembers. Apoorva is just so excited about so many things, including drawing, music, writing, speech and debate, Kung Fu, problem solving, teaching others, and everything in between. She can recite more than two hundred digits of Pi rapid fire, and she can memorize a deck of cards in fifteen minutes. “We don’t need a calculator when she’s around, or RAM for that matter, because her speed and memory are super charged for puzzles, codes, and theorems,” her mother confesses with a shy smile.

Recently, viewers all over the world got to see Apoorva’s love of learning on NBC’s Genius Junior, where she shared her passion for mathematics and competition. Apoorva was her team’s 'Super Brain for Number Cruncher' in the preliminary, semi-final, and...

Scott J. Peters

It’s no secret that identified gifted and talented populations are dominated by students from white and Asian American families and that students from African American, Latinx, and Native American families are disproportionately underrepresented. Less well known is the degree of this proportionality at individual schools or school districts. Disproportional representation in any educational service or program cannot be addressed through policy and practice if individual schools don’t know the scope of the problem or how long it’s been going on. Luckily, the data are now available to answer such questions.

Since the 2009–10 school year, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education has conducted a biannual survey of every school in the country on a range of civil rights issues. (These data were part of a large Fordham report entitled Is there a Gifted Gap? earlier this year.) Although this data collection has been going on since the late 1960s, what made 2009 a breakthrough year was that all schools were surveyed instead of just a sample. This universal data collection has continued ever since. What this means for practitioners is that information on gifted education service populations is now available for...

Timothy Daly

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared in a slightly different form on The 74.

Why don’t more low-income and minority students succeed in school? There is plenty of talk about bad schools, insufficient resources, turbulent neighborhoods, and the like. And, yes, lots of disadvantaged students start school behind their more advantaged peers—and, because of these myriad challenges, stay behind. But there are many others who demonstrate success in school, at least for stretches of their educational careers, but fall off along the way. Instead of resigning ourselves to these outcomes, we must instead ask: Why, specifically, does this happen? And how do we fix it?

At EdNavigator, of which I am a founding partner, we have spent the past two years providing sustained educational support to hundreds of families in and around New Orleans, in all types of schools. Each of them has been afforded access to a Navigator—someone with deep roots in their community and professional experience in teaching, counseling, or school leadership—who serves as their personal education adviser. Through this work, we have gained deep insight into the day-to-day interactions of families and schools and the obstacles they confront. Our experience has brought the questions above...


The biggest takeaway from the new National Assessment of Education Progress results is a bleak one: Average scores are flat almost everywhere—fourth grade and eighth grade, reading and math, low- and high-income, black, Hispanic, and white. As my colleague Mike Petrilli wrote today in another Flypaper post, “it’s now been almost a decade since we’ve seen strong growth in either reading or math, with the slight exception of eighth grade reading.”

But lost in that disappointing decade of averages is a decade of fairly steady and unexpectedly universal progress for one set of students: high achievers. Not every top scorer benefited to the same degree—and that’s an enduring and substantial problem—but benefit they all did.

NAEP is administered every two years, and scores can fall into three “achievement levels” dubbed Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The grade- and subject-specific cutoffs are meant to reflect real-life aptitudes. Proficient is defined as “solid academic performance for each grade assessed.” Advanced indicates “superior performance,” and is therefore NAEP’s best proxy for “high-achieving” or “gifted” students.

Table 1 shows how students have fared in fourth and eighth grade over the last decade in reaching the Advanced level in math and...