The High Flyer

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...

 
 

Last week, several of my Fordham colleagues published a fantastic fifty-state review of accountability systems and how they impact high achievers. Lamentably, they found that most states do almost nothing to hold schools accountable for the progress of their most able pupils. There are several reasons for this neglect, as the report’s foreword discusses; but with states now revamping their school report cards under the new federal education law, they have a great chance to bolster accountability for their high-achieving students.

How did Ohio fare? We’re pleased to report that the Buckeye State is a national leader in accounting for the outcomes of high-achieving students. As the Fordham study points out, Ohio accomplishes this in three important ways. First, to rate schools, the state relies heavily on the performance index. This measure gives schools additional credit when students reach advanced levels on state exams, encouraging them to teach to all learners and not just those on the cusp of proficiency. Second, Ohio utilizes a robust value-added measure that expects schools to contribute to all students’ academic growth, including high achievers (and regardless of whether they come from low- or higher-income backgrounds). Third, state report cards...

 
 

During the No Child Left Behind era of education reform, now winding down, teachers, schools and districts were tacitly encouraged to focus their efforts on raising the floor rather than raising the roof on student achievement. Whether by accident, choice or neglect, high-achievers as well as those merely "above proficient" received little attention. And why should they? With so many struggling in the water, why concern ourselves with those standing safely on dry land?

A new report from my colleagues at Fordham tells why. Simple fairness, for starters. We should strive to develop the full potential of all children, not encourage schools to choose winners and losers either by design or neglect. It's also in our strategic interests not to ignore high-achievers. From their ranks will surely emerge many of the men and women for whom our children and grandchildren will work and vote, and whose talents will hopefully keep the nation secure and economically competitive well into the future.

There's a moral component to consider as well. "If we want tomorrow's scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors to 'look like America,' our schools need to take special pains with the education of high-ability kids from disadvantaged circumstances," the report...

 
 

Thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state leaders today have a rare opportunity to set schools on the right trajectory for years to come. The law gives those policy makers significant leeway to design school accountability systems that will work for students at all levels of achievement.

This is welcome news because most state models need a total overhaul. Relics of the No Child Left Behind Era, they continue to judge schools based largely on the percentage of their students who attain the “proficient” mark on state tests. The signal those schools receive is that “bubble kids”—those performing just below or just above the “proficiency” line—are the students whose learning really matters. Indeed, research has demonstrated that students just below that bar were most likely to make large gains in the NCLB era, while high achievers made lesser improvements.

The students most harmed by these perverse incentives are high-achieving, disadvantaged students who depend most heavily on the public education system to do right by them. Under today’s accountability regimes, their teachers often feel pressure to elevate their low achievers to pass state tests. And their schools face so many other challenges—attendance, discipline, nutrition, etc.—that attending to the educational needs of high...

 
 
Dina Brulles and Karen L. Brown

The new school year is on the horizon, and you’re already feeling somewhat apprehensive. You know that transitions are a challenge for your gifted child— whether it’s a new school, a new grade level, a new teacher, or all of the above. You want to make sure that your child’s new teacher understands that your gifted child has learning needs that differ from others. You feel that establishing a close and respectful partnership with your child’s teacher early in the year can ease stress and set a structure for a successful year of learning.

In anticipation of meeting the new teacher, you think about questions you want to ask. You start with the obvious: “Are you aware that my child is gifted? What is your experience teaching gifted children? How do you plan on challenging my child this year?” At the same time, you really don’t want to come across as one of those parents. What’s a parent to do?

Here are five key strategies to form a strong relationship with your gifted child’s teacher:

1. Share information about how your child thinks and feels, along with any specifics that will help the teacher understand your child’s learning needs at school. Respect the process...

 
 

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...

 
 

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