High Achievers

The Emmy edition

Catholic schools and the Pope’s stateside visit, Bill de Blasio’s pre-K enrollment efforts, STEM education for gifted kids, and KIPP’s successful scale-up.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Christina Clark Tuttle, Kevin Booker, Philip Gleason, Gregory Chojnacki, Virginia Knechtel, Thomas Coen, Ira Nichols-Barrer, and Lisbeth Goble, "Understanding the Effect of KIPP as it Scales: Volume I, Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes," Mathematica (September 2015).


Robert:                  This is your host, Robert Pondiscio, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show, and online at edexcellence.net. And now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Jon Hamm of education reform, Brandon Wright.

Brandon:                  How's it going?

Robert:                  Things are great, Don Draper. Come on, you kind of have that look.

Brandon:                  Do I?

Robert:                  I mean, for those of us who are following along on television today, which is none of us, yeah, you've kind of got that a little bit.

Brandon:                  Take that as a compliment. I think the funny thing about him is if you've seen him in any comedies, what I think he really wants to do is be a comedian, but he's just too handsome. So it just doesn't work, right? People who are hilarious have something interesting about their look that you can't always pinpoint, but he just doesn't work visually as a comedian.

Robert:                  I can even see that, it's funny, the only thing I've ever seen him in is that role.

Brandon:                  He's actually pretty funny.

Robert:                  Is he really?

Brandon:                  Yeah.

Robert:                  And he might be one of those guys who is doomed to forever just be typecast as that guy.

Brandon:                  I don't know, he's been in a lot of stuff.

Robert:                  Has he?

Brandon:                  Yeah.

Robert:                  Clearly, for all the pop culture references we make here, I need to brush up my pop culture expertise. I've never seen him in anything other than "Mad Men."

Brandon:                  Yeah. I think he really wants to be a comedian.

Robert:                  Good luck with that, hope that works out. Do we want to be comedians here? Let's hope not.

Brandon:                  I'm not that funny, I don't think.

Robert:                  Clara, you're funny. Let's play Pardon the Gadfly.

Clara:                  All right. Pope Francis is in D.C. How has public perception of urban Catholic schools changed since the last time a Pope was in our nation's capital?

Robert:                  I'm not sure when the last time the Pope was in the nation's capital. 10 years ago?

Brandon:                  According to Mike, it was when we put out the last Catholic schools report, which I just saw online today was 2008, I think.

Robert:                  Okay. All right. So the pope is here in D.C., snarling at traffic and administering last rites to the Washington Nationals. Thank you.

Brandon:                  Got to throw the Mets in there.

Robert:                  I'm trying to be funny.

Brandon:                  Although it will be bad if they're six and a half back, and lose. Only one team ever that's ever done that.

Robert:                  Call on the Pope for divine intervention. First of all, we need to start by giving just enormous props to our own Kathleen Porter-Magee, who when she is not here at Fordham, runs a small number of independent Catholic schools in New York City, and the Pope, for the first time ever, is going to visit a parochial school, he's visiting one of Kathleen's schools. How exciting is that?

Brandon:                  Very cool. Very cool.

Robert:                  On the other hand, I feel kind of bad for her, because no matter what happens for the rest of her life...

Brandon:                  I'm sure she's very stressed out too.

Robert:                  That too. Well let me tell you, "in 2015 the Pope came to my school", I'm not sure what tops that.

Brandon:                  Sure, sure.

Robert:                  But as much as I'm thrilled that he is visiting Catholic schools, Kathleen's in particular, and turning the lights up on Catholic schools, I have to be honest, where was he 50 years ago? I'm not meaning this Pope, but any Pope. Catholic education was at its high-water mark in 1960, when there was approximately 5.2 million Catholic school students. Guess how many there are right now.

Brandon:                  I don't know, a million?

Robert:                  More than that, 2.3. But about half. Catholic schools, especially if you're from the northeast part of the United States where I'm from, kind of built that part of the country. And I recognize that Kathleen and Andy Smarick has a piece in the National Review saying "hey Catholic schools are innovating now," and that's great, but I can't help but be a little bit sad, we've just lost something spectacular in this country, in the form of weaker Catholic schools, far fewer of them, and the conventional wisdom of course is that charters have replaced that.

                                    But you know what? I just don't know that you can ever replace the mission-drivenness of Catholic schools. The character, the values, the academics, especially for low-income kids, I'm just not sure that what we have now replaces what we used to have, with a far more robust Catholic education sector.

Brandon:                  So you say that the number's dropped over the last 50 years, and you cite the number now, and the number then. Has the number gone down that whole time, or is it going back up at the moment now?

Robert:                  I think it's been a steady decline, but the irony of course is that the number of Catholics in this country has steadily increased. In about the time that Catholic school enrollment has been cut in half, the number of Catholics in America has roughly doubled. Now yes, it's probably a significant rise, I don't have the data in front of me, so maybe I shouldn't freelance this: I assume it's a much higher percentage of very low-income Americans, who maybe can't afford even the modest tuition of Catholic schools, and that's why charters are stealing share of them then.

                                    But it is absolutely true that we have more Catholics in America than we did 50 years ago, but far less attendance in Catholic schools.

Brandon:                  Well to be a bit of an optimist, could it be that public schools have gotten better? So people feel less of a need to pay even a small amount to go to a private school.

Robert:                  Let me answer that with one word. My one word answer is, no.

Brandon:                  Okay. All right.

Robert:                  At least if that's true, I challenge one of your listeners to show me that that's true. All the evidence I've seen suggests just the opposite is true. So welcome Pope, and have a great visit at Kathleen's school, but don't be a stranger, come back, again and again and again.

Brandon:                  Except for the traffic.

Robert:                  Except for the traffic. Question number two, Clara.

Clara:                  Mayor Bill de Blasio recently disputed Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller's study that found those who most need early learning don't get it. Has Mayor de Blasio been successful in his push to increase pre-K enrollment?

Robert:                  I'm going to take a look at this and write about this for this week's Gadfly, and I'm really tempted to title the pieces something about "How to Widen the Achievement Gap". Because if you look at what Mayor de Blasio is doing, and we've talked about this on the podcast before, he's created basically a new entitlement, universal pre-K, but what Professor Fuller's data seems to indicate is that the kids who need it the most aren't getting... I'm not saying they're not getting it at all, but they are far less likely to get it than modest income, but not the lowest of the low, and that's who really needs pre-K the most.

                                    If you look at the way that children develop language, pre-K is never going to be a substitute for growing up in a home with parents who are educated and speak in full sentences and read every night, but that's where the battle is won and lost in terms of language proficiency, is in the first four years of life. So why are we creating in New York this universal entitlement that goes to everyone, and the evidence that Professor Fuller seems to be seeing here is that those who need it the most are getting it the least.

Brandon:                  So if everyone gets it, wouldn't everyone get it?

Robert:                  Was that...?

Brandon:                  It was a topology, I think it is.

Robert:                  A topology?

Brandon:                  No, right, if the complaint is that the kids who need it aren't getting it, and the answer being put in place is universal pre-K, isn't that by definition giving it to everyone? So wouldn't all the kids get it?

Robert:                  Sure. That's the point. Everybody gets it, then nobody has a chance to catch up. Let me have a look at the site...

Brandon:                  So the kids who don't need it shouldn't get it at all? So that the other kids can catch up?

Robert:                  Well, I see what you're saying. Yes.

Brandon:                  Doing a little debating now.

Robert:                  Well, I don't have this data in front of me, but I believe that Professor Fuller has also pointed out that a significant percentage of kids who are in the free pre-K either did or would have had a private pre-K. So basically you're just saving them the cost. But the number that jumped out at me is this one: families residing in the poorest fifth of city zip codes saw just a 1% increase in registration of four-year-olds compared with school last year. So most of the growth from year one to year two is coming in not the bottom quintile but the others.

Brandon:                  So it's available but people aren't sending their kids there?

Robert:                  People don't take advantage of it enough.

Brandon:                  So then if you took the money that they're spending to give it to everyone, even people who would pay regardless, you could better spend that money to increase the enrollment of the kids who need it most?

Robert:                  Sure. Absolutely.

Brandon:                  That makes sense.

Robert:                  And the other thing that concerns me is, this has nothing to do with pre-K, but Mayor de Blasio also gave a big speech last week, where he announced his priorities for education. And one of them was universal second-grade literacy. Sounds good, right? My fear is that Mayor de Blasio and his chancellor Farina have kind of one flavor of literacy that they like, which I've written about deathlessly over the years, a program by Lucy Calkins of Teacher's College, the so-called Teacher's College Reading and Writing Program, the only reason Brandon I'm still in education these days, after teaching years and years ago, was I got so scandalized by what we were doing to low-income kids in the Bronx where I taught, with this program, that I kind of became militant on the subject.

                                    So when I hear that Mayor de Blasio wants to spend $75 million I think in the next couple of years on reading specialists, every alarm bell that I have is ringing, saying "oh no, please not that again." And I have been over the last two days, calling and emailing City Hall, the Tweed Building, the DoE in New York City, to say "what are you spending the $75 million on?" So far, no answer. Please return my phone calls, Tweed.

Brandon:                  Please do. All right.

Robert:                  Question number three, Clara.

Clara:                  Intel announced that it will soon pull its sponsorship of the annual Science Talent Search, which former president George H. W. Bush once called "the Super Bowl of science." How could this withdrawal of support impact America's brightest students, especially those interested in STEM?

Robert:                  Great question for Brandon Wright, who is our house expert on gifted education.

                                    Why would Intel do this? This is nuts, they've had that competition since I was your age, young man!

Brandon:                  I'm not sure. Actually Intel took it over from Westinghouse-

Robert:                 I remember Westinghouse. That's how old I am.

Brandon:                  ... in I think the '90s. But still, I'm not sure, but it does kind of seem like it's par for the course in American education. We've moved so far away from actually focusing on our brightest kids, and this kind of goes along with that trend. Unfortunately, it's in the subjects that we needed most, stem subjects, and it's for the age group, high school, that's doing the worst. So if you look at the United States compared to other countries, our fourth graders actually do pretty good. And then when they get to eighth they do worse, and then when they get to be 15 they do awful. So I don't know, it just doesn't make a lot of sense, and this is like another nail in the coffin of gifted education, or education of our highest potential, brightest kids, however you want to label that group of kids.

Robert:                  You mean the ones who are going to hire my daughter in a few years, when she gets out of college?

Brandon:                  Yes.

Robert:                  Yeah, those guys. Please. And we should also plug your book, with Chester Finn, you've got a new book out within the last week or two on exactly this subject.

Brandon:                  Last week.

Robert:                  Just last week. Congratulations, you're now a published author. And the title is?

Brandon:                  "Failing Our Brightest Kids".

Robert:                  There you go. That says it all, doesn't it?

Brandon:                  Yeah.

Robert:                  And that's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly. And now it's time for everyone's favorite, here's Amber's Research Minute.

                                    I came down here for three days, and found out that all of my Fordham friends and colleagues are going to be working from home tomorrow.

Brandon:                  I did warn you well ahead of time.

Amber:                  Yes, my schedule this week for the Pope, so the Pope has upset my life this week, but I'm glad everybody else is happy about him coming.

Robert:                  Yeah, so if the Pope wants to hang out in the empty Fordham offices, I mean you could fire a cannon off in this place and nobody would know about it.

Amber:                  This is true.

Brandon:                  Probably not a good idea with the Pope around.

Robert:                  Probably not a good idea. Amber, what have you got for us today?

Amber:                  I've got a new study out by Mathematica, looks at their latest results on KIPP.

Robert:                  Oh, I read this.

Amber:                  I'm glad you did. So it's called "Understanding the effect of KIPP as it scales." So Mathematica's had this contract for years to be tracking the impact of KIPP, so just a little bit of background, KIPP received in 2010 $50 million and an i3 scale-up grant from US DOE. So it got some money. And so now these folks are saying "okay, how did that scale-up go?" So it tracked some of these students.

                                    So basically part of their i3 commitment was to develop their leadership pipeline, which I'm assuming means hire a bunch more principals and train them, and double their students, from 27,000 to over 55,000 by 2015, so by this year. So that was a pretty big jump.

Robert:                  They overachieved, I think they've got like 60,000 kids now.

Amber:                  So they are really scaling. All right, the latest evaluation examines impacts at the elementary, middle and high school levels, which we haven't had before, they've been kind of doing this in a piecemeal fashion, and again as I mentioned, looked at the scale-up. So I'm going to go "boom boom boom" at each level, big highlight, okay.

                                    For elementary level, they were able to use this random assignment versus this lottery winner and loser, I think we've all heard about this design before, it's this rigorous design. And they found that being offered admission to a KIPP school led to an increase of .25 standard deviation on a standardized reading test, it was Woodcock Johnson.

Robert:                  Woodcock Johnson, yes.

Amber:                  In math, the impacts were also positive, equivalent to an increase from the 58th to the 68th percentile, which sounds pretty good to me. At the middle school level, again they were able to use this lottery-based design, in most cases, not all cases. And they also used a matched design, where they kind of match the kids on demographics of baseline scores, so not to get too wonky, but they weren't able to use the lottery design for every single level.

Robert:                  It's still a positive effect, right?

Amber:                  Still positive. Both designs showed KIPP middle schools had positive impacts on students' test scores in reading, math, science and social studies, so all four core areas. For instance, in science and social studies, both of them, on average KIPP middle schools have a positive impact of .25, so about a quarter of a standard deviation, every single time almost.

Robert:                  That's a big effect.

Amber:                  And at the high school level finally, last of all, having an opportunity to attend a KIPP school boost new entrants' math scores, so these are the new guys that are coming in, they haven't come up through the middle school, .27 standard deviation, which is still pretty good, increase, which they try to always tell you what that means in terms of percentile, so it's going from the 48th to the 59th percentile for the average kid.

                                    And then they look at the scale-up, I'm really trying to... there's a ton of stuff in here, it's really long, but anyway, for the scale-up, the average impact of middle schools were positive for both math and reading throughout the whole 10 years. So we're talking about 2005 to 2014. But it was a little bit higher in earlier years than in recent years, but it wasn't terrible, I kind of dug in a little bit.

                                    And then they looked at, and this will be interesting to you Robert, they looked at all these non-academic outcomes at the end, which people are more and more interested in.

Robert:                  This fascinates me.

Amber:                  And student and parent survey data show that KIPP elementary and middle schools have positive impacts on school satisfaction, parents love the KIPP schools, but not at the high school level. High school parents are tough. KIPP high schools however, compared to their treatment schools, have positive affects on various aspects of college preparation, like how often they discuss college with the kids. That makes sense.

                                    Oddly enough though, across all grade levels, KIPP schools had no statistically significant impact on most measures of student motivation and engagement, behavior or educational aspirations.

Robert:                  And that fascinates me.

Amber:                  Right? Isn't that something?

Robert:                  Because if there's anything that even non-wonks now about KIPP, "oh those are the grip guys. Those are the everyone-must-go-to-college guys."

Amber:                  Right. And on the aspirational front, that was weird. But they found the measures were also high in the treatment schools. One exception which they note in the report is that parents of KIPP school students are 10 percentage points more likely than the comparison group to believe their child is very likely to complete college.

                                    But bottom line: it's a ton of information, but mostly all of it is good, I mean you have to look hard to find the negative takeaways in that report.

Robert:                  KIPP is one of those chains of charter that's always going to have their detractors, and people who just don't like their flavor of education, that's fine, school of choice, parents like it, that's great. The question that I have is not how they did the last five years, that's your point, all good. How are they going to do for the next five years? In other words, they doubled, and I figured this out, they went from being, if they were a standalone school district, to being somewhere now in the mid-60s, somewhere in between say El Paso and Boston, in terms of their size. If they double again, which I think is what they are planning to do in the next five years, then suddenly they're as big as a top 20 US school district. At what point do you reach the talent speed limit? Because those of us who have worked in the charter world will tell you that the biggest impediment to growth is leadership. That's what the i3 grant was about, was trying to find enough qualified leaders to grow as quickly as they might. Is there a point where you just can't find the talent anymore?

Amber:                  Well, I can just tell, this is my own anecdotal story. I'm on a charter board here in D.C., we are not one of these well-known brand name CMO types, and we're always commiserating that we can't attract or are losing teachers when KIPP and democracy prop come knocking on their doors. Because teachers are proud, they want to be a part of these brand name... it's sort of a respect thing for them, it's a big deal to be affiliated with these schools, so what they've been able to do in terms of attracting talent, it's a pretty big deal.

Robert:                  Yeah. Folks who are within KIPP will tell you that the goal is to create a true pipeline where they work more with schools of education and whatnot, so they're not cherry-picking to your point, but I just can't help but wonder. Let's make a note of this: five years from now, if they double again, will they still be able to do so and maintain quality? It's a fascinating question I think.

Amber:                  Well I think if anybody can do it, it's them. I think that they have this on their radar screen right, because these data bear it out. Everybody thought I think when they double, they're going to just tank. A lot of people thought that. But I mean, they've even rebounded a little bit, if you dig into the data you begin to see even in the high growth areas, where they experience a little bit of a lull, they're already beginning to bounce back. So I think these guys are on their A-game, but I think it's a great question because at some point, you think there's going to be some tipping point, where you cannot begin to keep up with the advances they've made, and get the talent.

Robert:                  Yeah. And if they get to the point where they are a de facto major US school district, and can still pull that off, then good for them.

Amber:                  But I mean if you're sitting around your table around Thanksgiving, do you most of your family members, have they heard of KIPP? Because my family members have, because I asked them, and like wow, when Joe Blow's heard of KIPP, that's kind of a big deal, right?

Robert:                  Exactly. And five years from now, perhaps even more so.

Amber:                  Yeah.

Robert:                  Great. Thanks Amber, that's all the time we have for this week's Gadfly Show, till next week...

Brandon:                  I'm Brandon Wright.

Robert:                  And I'm Robert Pondiscio for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off. 

In Failing Our Brightest Kids, Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Brandon L. Wright argue that for decades, the United States has focused too little on preparing students to achieve at high levels. There are two core problems. First, compared to other countries, the United States does not produce enough outstanding students; and second, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are severely underrepresented among those high-fliers. Boosting academic excellence is an issue of both equity and human capital: Talented students deserve appropriate resources and attention, and the nation needs to develop these students’ abilities to remain competitive in the international arena.
Finn and Wright embark on a study of twelve countries and regions to address these issues, exploring the structures and practices that enable some countries to produce a greater proportion of top-flight students than the United States—and to more equitably represent disadvantaged students among their highest scorers. Based on this research, the book presents a series of ambitious but pragmatic points they believe should inform U.S. policy.
Read the introduction online.
Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students is published by Harvard Education Press and is...

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, best known for its scholarship programs for low-income gifted students in high school and college, has entered into the policy realm by beating the drum on an important issue—closing the excellence gap. Gifted-education expert Jonathan Plucker and his coauthors grade states on how they educate an oft-forgotten class of learners: high-performing, low-income students. (We at Fordham often refer to high-achieving students as high flyers.)

The report assesses states on inputs, which include requiring the identification of gifted students, providing services for them, and establishing pro-acceleration policies. Predictably, but still dishearteningly, not one state earned an A for providing needed support for their low-income high-flyers. On average, states only implement three of nine desirable policies, and no state implements more than six. Only two states require gifted education coursework in teacher or administrator training. The best grade, a B-, went to Minnesota, in part because it requires gifted students to be identified and given services.

Helpfully, the report also grades states on outputs. It reports the number of their students who reached “Advanced” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments or scored a three or higher on Advanced Placement exams (not necessarily...

A new study published in the American Education Research Journal asks, “What Works in Gifted Education?” Five gifted education and curriculum researchers assess the impact of differentiated English language arts units on gifted third graders. The units—one on poetry and one on research—“reflect more advanced, complex, and abstract concepts,” as well as concepts normally introduced in the fourth and fifth grades. Analysts explain that “even advanced learners vary in their readiness levels, interests and preferred learning profile and learn best when these differences are accommodated.” (Differentiated instruction can be broadly conceived as modifying at least one of three key elements of curriculum: content, process, and product. The evaluated units primarily focus on the former.)

Researchers randomly assigned gifted classrooms to treatment and comparison conditions such that roughly 1,200 students from eighty-five gifted classrooms across eleven states participated in year one of the study, one thousand in year two, and seven hundred in year three (though the number of classrooms and states changed each year). The three years (2009–2012) comprised the three cohorts. All classes were pre-assessed using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills so that they could control for prior achievement, which is important because schools use different methods to identify gifted...

A new study published in the latest issue of Gifted Education Quarterly examines the long-term impact on young students of skipping a grade (also known as acceleration) on subsequent academic outcomes. Analysts used the National Education Longitudinal Study database (NELS) to begin tracking a representative cohort of eighth-grade students in 1988, then follow them through high school and again two and eight years post-high school (i.e., through 2000). A variety of outcome data were collected, including PSAT, SAT, and ACT scores, students’ GPAs, and college aspirations—as well as college measures, such as the selectivity of the institution, GPA for each college year, and degree attainment. All students who had ever skipped at least one grade prior to eighth grade comprised the acceleration group. Thus, the sample included kids who ranged from age nine to age thirteen while in eighth grade (the mean age was 12.7). Those students were then matched with a set of older, non-accelerated, same-grade peers from NELS based on gender, race, SES, and eighth-grade achievement. The accelerated and non-accelerated groups were nearly identical on these variables.

The study found that accelerated students scored significantly higher on the math sections of the PSAT, SAT, and most of the...

Can Gifted Education Survive the Common Core?

Can gifted education survive the common core?

As Common Core gathers speed in forty-three states and DC, what does it mean for high-ability students and gifted-and-talented education?  Some contend that higher standards for all mean gifted education is no longer necessary for some. Others insist that increasing the rigor of classes will automatically serve high achievers well. Some claim that differentiated instruction does the trick, while others worry that the country’s ablest students will lose what little claim they presently have on curriculum and instruction suited to their needs.

Who’s right?

Watch this discussion on what the Common Core portends for gifted students and their teachers, moderated by Fordham’s own Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Report Release: Common Core and Gifted Education: Myths, Opportunities, and Strategies for Success By Jonathan Plucker


Tricia Ebner
Gifted Intervention Specialist and ELA teacher, Lake Middle School
Jonathan Plucker
Raymond Neag Endowed Professor of Education, University of Connecticut 
[email protected]
Rena Subotnik
Director, Center for Psychology in Schools and Education, American Psychological Association


Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus, Fordham Institute


While the merit and politics of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been much debated and discussed, one topic has been virtually ignored: What do the standards portend for America’s high-ability students?  In a new brief from Fordham, Jonathan Plucker, professor of education at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, provides guidance for districts and schools implementing the Common Core.

1. Common Core is no excuse to ditch gifted services.
2. State and local officials should get rid of policies that hurt gifted students and strengthen those that help them.
3. Schools should work hard to make differentiation "real."
4. Schools should make use of existing high-quality materials that help teachers adapt the Common Core for gifted students.

Download the brief, read “Can gifted education survive the Common Core?” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Amber M. Northern, and watch today’s event to learn more.

What does the Common Core portend for America’s high-achieving and gifted students? Quite a kerfuffle has erupted in many parts of the country, with boosters of these rigorous new standards declaring that they’re plenty sufficient to challenge the ablest pupils and boosters of gifted education fretting that this will be used as the latest excuse to do away with already-dwindling opportunities for such children.

Previous research by Fordham and others has made clear that the pre-Common Core era has not done well by high achievers in the United States. Almost all the policy attention has been on low achievers, and, in fact, they’ve made faster gains on measures such as NAEP than have their high-achieving classmates. Gifted children, in our view, have generally been short-changed in recent years by American public education, even as the country has awakened to their potential contributions to our economic competitiveness and technological edge. It would therefore be a terrible mistake for the new Common Core standards, praiseworthy as we believe they are, to become a justification for even greater neglect.

We asked gifted education expert Jonathan Plucker of the University of Connecticut to help us and others understand what lies...

This post was originally published in a slightly different form by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy.

There is a great deal of controversy and division around education policy in New York City and state. Few issues highlight the complex nature of these debates more than the enrollment composition of, and entrance requirements to, New York City’s selective high schools.

With one exception (Fiorello H. LaGuardia High, which is also determined by audition and academic record), entrance into eight of the city’s nine specialized schools is determined solely by a student’s results on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). Any current eighth-grade student in NYC public schools, and any first-time ninth-grade student in public, private, and parochial schools, may take the SHSAT. Students are ranked by the resulting scores on the SHSAT and then matched against their choice of high school on a space-available basis.

Stuyvestant High School, the Bronx High School of Science, the Brooklyn Technical High School, and Hunter College High School are among the city’s most famous selective schools. The first three use the SHSAT exam. Bronx Science counts eight Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. Stuyvesant counts among its graduates such notables as actress...

President Obama’s contempt for the Constitution, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s unfortunate disregard of that document, have been loudly and justly decried by critics of executive overreach. Less heralded, but equally troubling, is the mission creep of the Office for Civil Rights as it works to reshape the education world and to right whatever alleged wrongs it thinks it sees.

All of these officials and agencies are seeking to accomplish policy goals that they believe are good for America, and I’m not impugning their motives. But they are playing fast and loose with their job descriptions and responsibilities under law.

Much has been written and said about Obama and Duncan. Let’s focus here on OCR. Mike Petrilli has already exposed the folly of the agency’s witch hunt for disparate impact in school discipline and explained the challenges it will pose for educators trying to run schools that are conducive to learning. In the matter of sexual harassment, I and others have written about the ill-conceived substitution of university conduct codes, unreasonable evidentiary standards, and star-chamber procedures for longstanding law-enforcement practices. (This carries more than a whiff of hypocrisy, as those whom the government is “protecting” are the selfsame students who ...