High Achievers

Myles Mendoza

As a parent of three young children in Chicago Public Schools, I’m starting to get nervous.

Luckily, my family can afford to live in a neighborhood with one of the city’s few higher-performing elementary schools that aren’t governed by selective enrollment. But in the upper grades, even Chicago’s best neighborhoods have almost no high-quality options unless you can afford a private school.

So we’ve begun the effort to get our kids tested to see if they can be among the lucky few to gain entry into Chicago’s selective enrollment schools. Because the system is point-based, families strategize on how to get their kids into these coveted programs. Parents in the know find tutorials online. Some even spend hundreds of dollars for test preparation.

Recently, as I sat in a testing center waiting for my son to finish his exam, I looked around and saw a lot of affluent parents like me. I wondered, what about the children without parents to advocate for them? What about those families without social capital or financial means—do they even know these gifted programs exist?

Gifted schools and programs are supposed to be for all students with unique abilities, but as I sat in the...

This study examines the impact of achievement-based “tracking” in a large school district. The district in question required schools to create a separate class in fourth or fifth grade if they enrolled at least one gifted student (as identified by an IQ test). However, since most schools had only five or six gifted kids per grade, the bulk of the seats in these newly created classes were filled by the non-gifted students with the highest scores on the previous year’s standardized tests. This allowed the authors to estimate the effect of participating in a so-called Gifted and High Achieving (GHA) class using a “regression discontinuity” model.

Based on this approach, the authors arrive at two main findings: First, placement in a GHA class boosts the reading and math scores of high-achieving black and Hispanic students by roughly half of one standard deviation, but has no impact on white students. Second, creating a new GHA class has no impact on the achievement of other students at a school, including those who just miss the cutoff for admission. Importantly, the benefits of GHA admission seem to be driven by race as opposed to socioeconomic status. They are also slightly larger for minority...

Way back in the early days of the accountability movement, Jeb Bush’s Florida developed an innovative approach to evaluating school quality. First, the state looked at individual student progress over time—making it one of the first to do so. Then it put special emphasis on the gains (or lack thereof) of the lowest-performing kids in the state.

Many of us were fans of this approach, including the focus on low-achievers. It was an elegant way to highlight the performance of the children who were most at risk of being “left behind,” without resorting to an explicitly race-based approach like No Child Left Behind’s. [[they were virtually concurrent; I think it’s OK]]

Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners recently interviewed one of the designers of the Florida system, Christy Hovanetz, who elaborates:

By focusing on the lowest-performing students, we want to create a system that truly focuses on students who need the most help and is equitable across all schools. We strongly support the focus on the lowest-performing students, no matter what group they come from.

That does a number of things. It reduces the number of components…within the accountability system and places the focus on students who truly need the...

M. René Islas and Keri Guilbault, Ed.D.

A recent report showing low levels of participation by black, Hispanic, and low-income students in the gifted and talented programs of Montgomery County underscores the significant challenges before our nation in the pursuit of equity in excellence.

Montgomery County school officials should be applauded for commissioning the study and for announcing plans to hold community meetings to discuss the findings later this spring. But ultimately, meaningful reforms will require actions, not words. This is particularly true of changes to the practices and policies serving gifted students from historically underrepresented populations.

The report highlights the need for families to be fully aware of the existence of gifted education programs and the ways their children can be identified for participation. Gifted identification would ideally begin early in a student’s career to allow for planning and early intervention. This requires a change in attitude; chiefly, it demands that we drive a stake through the dangerous fallacy that gifted students don’t exist in disadvantaged or diverse populations.

County school officials must also ensure that multiple criteria are used to identify students as gifted and that universal screening procedures are in place. These practices do not water down the talent pool. Instead, they aim to...

Dina Brulles, Ph.D.

The goal of gifted programs should reflect that of any other educational program: to engage students with appropriately challenging curricula and instruction on a daily basis and in all relevant content areas so that they can make continual academic growth.

Over the past several years, the Paradise Valley (AZ) Unified School District has continued to expand gifted services in response to identified need. The district provides a continuum of services designed for the specific learning needs of gifted students from preschool through high school.

With a student population that is 30 percent Hispanic and 37 percent eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, Paradise Valley uses a multifaceted identification process and embeds a gifted specialist in each of the district’s elementary schools to train teachers and staff to recognize high potential. The result: 32 percent of the district’s gifted population is non-white, a doubling of this portion since 2007.

Strong gifted programs take time to develop and will change over time. Developing sustainable services requires that we continually modify our programs to respond to many factors. Educational trends, district initiatives, state policies, shifting student demographics and staffing all can significantly influence how programs develop and evolve. Embedding gifted services into what...

M. René Islas

Last fall, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published a working paper by researchers Thomas S. Dee and Hans Henrik Sieversten titled The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health. The well-developed study quantifies the effects of predicating enrollment in formal schooling on the mental health of students. However, parents, educators, and policy makers must be careful not to over-apply these findings for children with extraordinary gifts and talents.

Dee and Sieversten use robust data and a sound statistical methodology to demonstrate that delaying entry into kindergarten results in better mental health among students in later years, particularly when it comes to self-regulation. The researchers note that improved self-regulation may serve as a leading indicator for future academic success. While this is a potentially valuable finding, we must take heed of the numerous caveats and limitations of the study. It is particularly important to be cautious when making real decisions for individual children.

The intellectual foundations for the study come from Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC) data. The study is therefore more indicative of Danish social and educational environments. While the DNBC provides a robust trove of information, the special characteristics of the Danish setting may not...

By Norm Augustine and Rudy Crew

Talk is cheap.

For decades, elected officials, education leaders, and others have consumed much oxygen talking about the challenges facing our nation from countries doing a much better job developing their academic talent.

Despite this the reality is that we have largely failed to address this concern as many of our most talented children are being overlooked and uncultivated.

Across America today, data indicates that a tremendous number of minority and low-income children who have untapped giftedness are languishing academically and might never be challenged to reach their full potential.

This is a result of two dangerous fallacies: that gifted students “do just fine on their own”; and that gifted students don’t exist among impoverished or minority populations. These myths are devastating and push our nation in a dire direction.

The National Association for Gifted Children’s Turning a Blind Eye: Neglecting the Needs of Gifted and Talented highlights an uneven delivery system with fragmented policies and limited funding that inhibit access to gifted and talented programs, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report reveals that few states fully or adequately fund gifted education services and that many have laws or policies that impede access to gifted services. Most...

M. René Islas

On January 23, the Economist sent a clear warning to world leaders about the ways that “governments are systematically preventing [youth] from reaching their potential.” In the article “Young, gifted and held back,” authors point to many policies, practices, and traditions that limit the ability of individuals under the age of thirty to excel in their adulthood and even lead their communities to prosperity. The piece briefly mentions the importance of investing in education, but I would like to call our attention to an aspect of education that is constricting human and economic flourishing—the neglect of children with extraordinary gifts and talents with high potential for excellence and productivity.

According to the last available data from the OECD PISA in 2012, school systems across the globe only produced 12.6 percent of students that could perform at the highest levels on mathematics. Results are far worse in the United States, where only 8.8 percent of American students achieved at the highest levels. If the Pareto Principle still stands, the U.S. is short 11.2 percent of the 20 percent of the population needed to lead the nation to continued prosperity. Put simply, an education system that values mediocrity over excellence...

The Star Wars edition

Intel’s withdrawal of its Science Talent Search sponsorship, the legitimacy of the “Asian advantage,” charter school policy’s importance to voters, and principals’ opinions of Teach For America alumni.  

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Mollie Rudnick, Amanda F Edelman, Ujwal Kharel, and Matthew W. Lewis, "Results from the Teach For America 2015 National Principal Survey," RAND Corporation (October 2015).


Alyssa :                                     Hello, this your host Alyssa Schwenk of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at The Education Gadfly show and  online at edexcellence.net. Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the J.J. Abrams of education reform, Brandon Wright.

Brandon:                                 Good one. Cool, cool, yeah.

Alyssa :                                     Initially, it was actually going to be an Adele reference, since Adele is dropping a new album, but I thought you might have ...

Brandon:                                 Adele's good too.

Alyssa :                                     Right, but I thought you might have more to say about the new ... It's Star Wars, right?

Brandon:                                 I actually just saw that, like ten minutes ago, I read that the Star Wars tickets went on pre-sale.

Alyssa :                                     Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Brandon:                                 They broke a record for pre-sale, which was previously held by The Hunger Games.

Alyssa :                                     That's a great movie.

Brandon:                                 It didn't just break it, it's already sold like eight times more than The Hunger Games did. It's already sold out like 16,000 screens or something? The movies doesn't come out, by the way, til December 18th.

Alyssa :                                     That's insane, right?

Brandon:                                 Rabid following. I'm excited about it though.

Alyssa :                                     I admit to not being a huge Star Wars fan, but I got to respect. This many people coming out, hopefully it's going to be a good show.

Brandon:                                 I like Lost, and I liked his two Star Trek films and, I think he'll do a good job.

Alyssa :                                     I have many opins on Lost, but that would be an entirely different podcast and take like, three hours.

Brandon:                                 Sure, sure.

Alyssa :                                     Let's just skip ahead to Pardon the Gadfly. Clara, first question.

Clara:                                        Intel will withdraw its support of the Science Talent Search, but will continue to fund Maker Faire and MakerCon. What does this mean for STEM Education?

Alyssa :                                     Brandon?

Brandon:                                 I think STEM Education will be fine. I think it's good that they're sticking with the other two.

Alyssa :                                     Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Brandon:                                 I kind of wish they would stick with all three, I guess. I think the Science Talent Search will be fine. I think they'll find another sponsor.

Alyssa :                                     Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Brandon:                                 I guess I wish Intel would've pulled out with kind of a replacement in mind, or, lined up. I just don't like the kind of trend of moving away from something I think, that's as important as the Science Talent Search. There just aren't very many of these kind of Science fair competitions that the U.S. does.

Alyssa :                                     Right. I think it's more symbolic than actual. The kids who do STS, I don't think are representative of kids nationwide and the Science education the kids nationwide receive. That being said, I think it's hugely important for kids who have an interest in research, that this be cultivated. I think the Maker Faire, it does the same thing, but in a very different direction? It's kind of geared towards the same kids, the same types of kids seem to participate. I don't think it's necessarily representative of where Science education in America is going, but I do see it kind of as, these are the skills that we as tech firms value. We want kids who can hack and build and create things, and take things apart, which is not the type of Science that STS necessarily promotes. That being said, I do think, there always needs to be more offerings for gifted kids in Science. There are so few already.

Brandon:                                 Mm-hmm (affirmative) I agree.

Alyssa :                                     Yeah.

Brandon:                                 I agree.

Alyssa :                                     It should be interesting.

Brandon:                                 Indeed.

Alyssa :                                     Question two.

Female:                                   Several articles last week focused on the so-called "Asian Advantage", that allows Asian Americans students to excel in school. Do you buy this argument, and how broadly does it apply?

Alyssa :                                     I do not buy this argument. I do not think it applies very broadly. I certainly do think though ... And Brandon, feel free to push back ... That, certain aspects of parenting and certain aspects of learning that, Asian families and Asian culture might promote do tend to have stronger outcomes. Something ... This was brought on by a NicK Kristof article entitled the "Asian Advantage" ... And, a lot of things that he brings up, two parent households and emphasis on education, an emphasis on self-discipline, those are going to create advantages for any kid who implements them.

                                                      At the same time, I don't think that, when we say the Asian Advantage, we're talking about all Asian students. We're focusing on Chinese Americans students, or perhaps Indian American students. I think saying that all Asian American students excel in school, kind of obfuscates some achievement gaps and opportunity gaps that we're going to see within the whole pantheon of Asian American students. I think that's an important distinction to make.

Brandon:                                 Sure. Yeah, I think what we're really talking about here is culture. It's culture that's kind of brought over from these different Asian countries, the majority of which actually do really, really well. Even the ones that tend to be a little less affluent. They kind of have an approach to education, and kind of smart kids, that holds that the kids who get the best grades aren't the smartest. They just work the hardest. Whereas, Americans tend to think that the kids who get the best grades are the smartest. Kristof makes a good point. It's probably somewhere in between those two things.

                                                      I think culture's really hard to change, and I think there is a legitimate difference here. A legitimate cultural influence that does push these kids' grades up. At the same time, I don't think culture's impossible to change, and I think we can take some of these things, or take some the things these countries do, like kind of put kids into different schools based on exam scores at like a high school age. Universally screen kids when they're in elementary school, and continue to do that. Still, I don't really know how you change American culture. I guess we could try to get people to care less about the football team, and care more about things like the Science Talent Search.

Alyssa :                                     You never see a Michigan fan ...

Brandon:                                 I think that's a little hopeful.

Alyssa :                                     I feel like that's hard for you to say.

Brandon:                                 It's not hard for me to say after Saturday. I don't know if you saw the game on Saturday.

Alyssa :                                     Sprortsing, Brandon, sportsing.

Brandon:                                 I'll quickly tell you, because it is worth talking about.

Alyssa :                                     Here we go.

Brandon:                                 Michigan was going to beat State, and they had ten seconds to go. They were punting from the 50-yard line. Ten seconds, all they had to do was punt the ball and they would win. They fumbled the punt, and State ran it all the way back and scored with no time left, to beat Michigan. It was like the worst thing I've ever seen on a football field, so I'm okay not caring about football after this weekend. A bit of a tangent.

Alyssa :                                     Not caring, or you can't care anymore?

Brandon:                                 I will continue to care, but I'm trying not to think about it.

Alyssa :                                     Okay.

Brandon:                                 I'm trying not to think about it.

Alyssa :                                     Reading a couple of these articles reminded me of last year, when everyone's favorite tiger mom, Amy Chua, came out with a book. I think it was "The Triple Threat" or "The Triple Package". It was something that ...

Brandon:                                 Triple Package, yeah.

Alyssa :                                     Made me think of Disney stars of yore, yes.

Brandon:                                 I reviewed it when I was ...

Alyssa :                                     Did any of the insights she had about cultures where certain traits are valued resonate, as you were either looking over these articles this week, or doing your research into the books that you and Checker just published?

Brandon:                                 I didn't really think about it at the time, but yeah, there's definitely overlap there. We definitely talk about culture in our book. I don't really know how you change it. If you do, it would be over a very long period of time.

Alyssa :                                     Right.

Brandon:                                 Yeah. I'm not sure it's ... It's a stuff nut to crack.

Alyssa :                                     It certainly is. Okay, onto another tough nut. This next question's a doozy. Clara?

Clara:                                        Charter schools have become a divisive issue in many major U.S. cities. Could a parent's preference for district or charter schools predict how they vote in the 2016 election?

Alyssa :                                     I'm going to take this question and parse, "What do we mean by 2016 election?" I think there are two different answers. The education post had a really interesting article, that just recently came out, looking at why education isn't more of a voting issue that people really make their decisions about in national elections. I don't think, if you look at the national election that, whoever it comes down to on the Democratic side and the Republican side, that education is going to be one of those issues. I think, we've seen it not get that much play in debates, are on ISIS. There are a lot of things that you can ask a presidential candidate about. I do think that education is a voting issue in a lot of elections. I think over the next two years we're going to see it emerge in some really strange and interesting ways in a couple of local races.

Brandon:                                 Yeah, I think it comes down to who really has control over schools. That's people at the district, the city, state, et cetera. I do wish that education was talked about more presidentially.

Alyssa :                                     That's for sure.

Brandon:                                 Right. Some of our colleagues make arguments about the "bully pulpit", kind of signalling to Americans and to there party the direction that they think education should go. As a leader of the country, I think that's important. At the same time, I don't really think it's going to decide many people's votes.

Alyssa :                                     Yeah.

Brandon:                                 There are bigger issues, and issues that the president influences directly.

Alyssa :                                     Yeah. Education is one of those issues where, it's not necessarily like, you're Republican, this is your party line. You're a Democrat, this is your party line. It's one of those issues where, you can be a liberal, but certainly support a lot of education reform platforms that have been on the Republican agenda. Or you can be on the right, and support some things that are coming kind of more traditionally from the left. It's one of those kind of confusing issues. I know when I talk about being in education, a lot of my friends are surprised, and see a lot of my views as conflicting.

Brandon:                                 Yeah. There're definitely a lot of people on the left, and it's obvious but, our office is about ed reform, right?

Alyssa :                                     Right.

Brandon:                                 Yeah. I think you're exactly right.

Alyssa :                                     Yeah. I think we've had eight years of President Obama and Arne Duncan, and now John King, which have been a pretty reform, liberal agenda. Richard Whitmire had a great piece in USA Today recently, about how that might change and how there's this schism in Democratic education politics. I don't think it's necessarily news to anyone who's been around the block. Certainly, Democrats for Education Reform, Andy Rotherham. a lot of people on the left have been writing about reform issues in a way that don't necessarily align with party platforms. I do think it's a very interesting thing, that's going to develop over the next couple of years and become more prominent. Since Hillary Clinton does not quite ... As far as we can tell, as far as she's messaged ... Align with what President Obama has done in office.

Brandon:                                 Right. I agree.

Alyssa :                                     Should be interesting. Let's come back to that question in about a year. I think that's all of the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly today. Up next, Amber's research minute.

Alyssa :                                     Hi David.

David:                                       Hi Alyssa, good to be here.

Alyssa :                                     How's it going?

David:                                       It's going well.

Alyssa :                                     We were discussing earlier ... And I know you're going to have a lot of opinions about this ... J.J. Abrams and Star Wars.

David:                                       Yes. My opinion is, can't it come out already?

Alyssa :                                     Yeah, so you actually got me earlier today. We were discussing the first set. I'm clearly choking over myself here.

David:                                       I was explaining the difference between an ewok and a wookiee.

Alyssa :                                     They are not related.

David:                                       We figured that out eventually, yes.

Alyssa :                                     Here's where I tripped up, and Audrey actually agrees with me. I was discussing this with her earlier. Ewok and wookiee sound related, so one of them could be a diminutive of the other. Not unlike cat and kitten. It was a linguistic thing.

David:                                       I got ya. Maybe I can get you a pet ewok for Christmas or something.

Alyssa :                                     Last year I got a Mickey Mouse chia pet, so I'll just add it to the collection.

David:                                       Yeah okay, sounds good.

Alyssa :                                     Okay. Moving on, what do you got for us today?

David:                                       All right. Today, we'll be discussing the Teach For America 2015 National Principal Survey, which was conducted by the RAND Corporation earlier this year. In this survey, which was last administered in 2013, RAND asked the 3,000 plus principals who currently have TFA core members at their schools, about their views on those core members. Roughly 1800 of these principals, or about 54 percent, responded. On average, these principals were less experienced, more racially and ethnically diverse, than the average American principal. They were much, much, more likely to run a charter school. However, only 12 percent of the respondents were TFA alumni, having gone through the program themselves.

                                                      In general, the results of the survey suggest that principals who work with TFA members view them positively. In particular, 80 percent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with core members at their schools, and 86 percent said they would be willing to hire another TFA core member. Sixty-six percent said they would definitely recommend doing so, to a fellow school leader. A majority of principals also said that TFA core members were at least as proficient as other novice teachers at their schools, across a range of skills. Like developing positive relationships with colleagues. Having high expectations, et cetera.

                                                      Then finally, 87 percent of principals said they were satisfied with the support TFA was providing it's core members, and three quarters said it complimented their own school's induction or training. Despite these positive findings however, two areas stood out as potentially problematic. Neither of which will come as a hugh surprise to our listeners. The first problematic area was classroom management, which half of respondents identified as a reason not to hire additional TFA core members. The second was, the oft criticized two-year commitment, which 57 percent of principals identified as a disincentive to hire.

                                                      Interestingly, both TFA alumni and principals of charter schools, viewed TFA core members and the program in general, more negatively than principals at traditional district high schools did. For example, both TFA alums and principals in charter schools, said core members subject matter expertise was lower, and they were less satisfied with TFA's ongoing support. Although despite these misgivings, charter school principals were more likely to say that they would hire additional TFA core members. Maybe because they face fewer hiring restrictions, or have less money with which to work, making this a more attractive option.

                                                      Obviously, some of these differences could reflect different expectations. Then again, some of them might be grounded in reality. Maybe novice teachers in general are more knowledgeable at charter schools, making TFA core members seem less knowledgeable by comparison. It's tough to say. Anyway, this survey isn't going to answer those sorts of questions, but it does point to some pretty important issues and findings that may seem counter-intuitive. First of all, principals at traditional schools are pretty satisfied with TFA, but principals at charter schools are less so. Not something that most people would expect, I think. Then second, and less surprisingly I guess, some of the big issues are still there. Particularly, classroom management and the issue of turnover, which is sort of evergreen. Let's get down to it.

Alyssa :                                     All right, very interesting. As an alum of TFA, a proud one, I'm heartened to hear that we are continuing to do well. What was interesting to me, is what you pointed out about charter school principals and alums being less satisfied. I don't know. Do you think that's an issue of higher expectations? If you're leading a KIPP school, you want each and every teacher to bring an A game, or do you think it's more of a like, "back in my day"? "When we were an alum, we were smarter, we were better prepared", et cetera.

David:                                       I think it's a little bit more of the former.

Alyssa :                                     Okay.

David:                                       I think that they ... Well, I suspect. This is all speculation ... But, it wouldn't shock me, if alums at least, felt unprepared when they were TFAers?

Alyssa :                                     Wait, wait, tell me more about that.

David:                                       Maybe they viewed the current TFAers as similarly unprepared. Then again, maybe all new teachers are unprepared. I don't know. To me, the interesting part was that they were still less likely ... Charter school principals ... Were still more likely rather, to hire TFA folks, even though they viewed them more negatively. I think that says something important about sort of, the job of a charter school principal versus a traditional teacher, traditional principal rather. They have less money to work with, and they have the option of hiring two TFAers on the cheap, perhaps. As opposed to paying one 30-year veteran a lot of money. Regardless of how you feel about that, I think it's interesting.

Alyssa :                                     Do you think that these principals, based on the context they're working in, either as a charter school principal or a district school principal, might have different ways of approaching TFA core members that would lead to those differing opinions of TFA core members?

David:                                       Yeah. I think there's an obvious cultural differences here, but it's pretty difficult to tease out from this survey alone. I'd love to see some sort of follow up survey done by TFA, of just charter school principals who hire TFA core members, and how they view them specifically, and what would lead them to make that decision, as opposed to hiring a different teacher.

Alyssa :                                     Yeah, I think it's certainly interesting when you're talking about a high performing charter network, like a KIPP or an Uncommon or something, where even if the principal didn't come through TFA him or herself, they're used to really highly performing teachers. In comparison, a really highly performing but novice teacher, might not shine as brightly as they would in a more traditional school or a school that's just less intense. Do you know if they broke it out by high performing charters, versus all charters, versus district, or just charter schools, lump sum?

David:                                       I can tell you definitively that they did not break it out.

Alyssa :                                     As alumni of charter schools in Washington, D.C., I think we can say that there is a widespread of quality within charter schools.

David:                                       And a widespread of type.

Alyssa :                                     Certainly a fascinating study. Certainly a lot more to explore, but definitely a really interesting piece of research, that we hope you'll all check out. All right, and that's actually all the time we have for the entire Gadfly show. Til next week ...

Brandon:                                 I'm Brandon Wright.

Alyssa :                                     I'm Alyssa Schwenk, for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

A blended Advanced Placement (AP) pilot program unfolding in Cincinnati shows tremendous promise. It provides students in poverty with in-person and virtual access to AP instruction and—if successful—could help make the case for why Ohio should provide free and universal access to online courses.

Over the years, Advanced Placement (AP) courses have been one of the most effective ways to prepare high school students for college and make it more affordable—a double win. However, there are enormous discrepancies in students’ access to AP programs based on geographic location, race, and poverty levels. The very academic programs that can help first-generation college goers and those typically underrepresented in higher education tend to be less available to them. Admittedly, some progress has been made: between 2003 and 2013, the number of students taking and scoring a 3 or higher on an AP exam almost doubled nationally. But Ohio continues to lag, not just in overall access to AP, but in successful course completion. The state falls considerably below the national average: 14.8 percent of 2013 Ohio graduates scored a 3 or higher on the AP exam, compared to 20.1 percent nationally.

That’s why an AP program piloted by Cincinnati...