High Achievers

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.

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 most help….It also reduces the need for...

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...

The "Genius" edition

A suburban college readiness gap, rethinking the high school graduation age, fracking’s effect on male dropout rates, and racial density in high schools. 

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: "School Composition and the Black-White Achievement Gap," U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (September 2015).


Robert :                                Hello, this is your host Robert Pondiscio 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 making his podcast debut, the Lin-Manuel Miranda of education reform, Kevin Mahnken.

Kevin:                                   Thank you very much Robert, it's nice to be here.

Robert :                                You say that now.

Kevin:                                   Yeah, we'll see how this goes. I have no experience in any audio format to this point, so it could very well go off the rail very quickly.

Robert :                                I'm going to count on that. Speaking of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the reason I evoked him, do you know why?

Kevin:                                   Tell my Robert.

Robert :                                He just was named a MacArthur Genius Grantee, right? Well deserved.

Kevin:                                   Yeah, he has now been officially designated a Genius. That debate has now been squared away. The keepers of our culture have now elevated him to that status, and I appreciate it because I like his work.

Robert :                                I like his work, I loved Hamilton. If you haven't seen it, see Hamilton. Mortgage or keep your children's lunch money, save whatever you have to, go see it. It's great.

                                                Did you look at the list of the other ... because you're not on it this year, neither am I. Again.

Kevin:                                   No, I got it in 2012. They don't double up. It's considered wasteful. No, you see the top line winners who would be Miranda and I think this year it's Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Robert :                                Correct.

Kevin:                                   Then ...

Robert :                                Twenty-two people I've never heard of.

Kevin:                                   Yeah, as we've discussed, fairly obscure but brilliant people who have dedicated their lives advancing some cause that they're now being remunerated for.

Robert :                                Handsomely.

Kevin:                                   Yeah, to the tune of, what like, $700,000?

Robert :                                A lot of money and they continue doing it and we can continue not having heard of them.

Kevin:                                   Yeah indeed, and in the case of Miranda, it means maybe he will seek it to consecrate some other unjustly ignored founding father.

Robert :                                Benjamin Rush, The Musical.

Kevin:                                   Yeah. Dudley Wigglesworth, The Sage of Concord. I would love to see it.

Robert :                                Good. Get on that Mr. Miranda.

                                                All right let's play, Pardon The Gadfly. Clara, take it away.

Clara:                                    The achievement gap in suburban school districts does not get much attention. Why should stake holders be concerned that districts, like Montgomery County, are getting only 11% of their low income students college ready?

Robert :                                What a fascinating ... Did you read the speech by our good friend, brother Mike Petrilli?

Kevin:                                   I did. Yes. I read all his work.

Robert :                                Okay, of course you do.

Kevin:                                   I prefer his early work.

Robert :                                Pre 2012.

Kevin:                                   Yeah.

Robert :                                He sends his sons to the Montgomery County Schools and he came up with this remarkable piece of data, that shows a well regarded suburban school district. When you look at it by sub groups, only 11% of the kids of color, low income kids of color, in Montgomery County are college ready as determined by SAT and ACT scores. I was kind of surprised by that.

                                                How about you?

Kevin:                                   I was surprised of the two figures that he shows in his piece that's the more striking one of kids who have taken, I think it's the ACT/SAT, you see higher figures for black and Latinos. It's somewhere a little bit closer to 20%, but of course you want to take a broader numbers.

                                                It is surprise, what makes them stark I think, is that you've got these huge scat's of white and Asian students who are being deemed college ready, according to these metrics, and the gap is therefore much, much wider and it cuts against what we would normally think of a somewhat affluent district like Montgomery County.

Robert :                                The point is a good one I think, and one that I think we think of ourselves as education reformers, we tend to focus on urban schools, right? Some of the same population that we focus on are in these suburban schools, and guess what? They're doing just as badly here or there as they are in the intercity. It's kind of fascinating.

                                                He starts out, Mike's piece, I was going to call it my favorite quote from John Dewey but I mean that archly or ironically, this business about, "What the best and why does this parent want, so should every parent want for his/her child and I think less is un-levelly and undemocratic."

                                                I've referred to that before, you see this all the time where good ideas, and I'm making air quotes around good ideas, that work pedagogically for affluent kids we say, "Hey it worked so well in the Upper East Side." Let's take it to the inner city where it crashes and burns. This is the same phenomena within a district. What's working well for affluent kids in a place like Montgomery County, it may not be working so well for low income kids. Mike's point, and I think its a good one is, do we need to rethink the instruction program to differentiate it more to give kids what they need just not what they think what we think they should have?

Kevin:                                   Even access to, in a case of low income kids, resources that have been earmarked for then but have not been delivered. You may have seen, there was a new report released by essentially a small think tank associated with the county, research that says something like, "50 million out of about 128 million in funds from the state for low income students didn't go directly to programs benefiting low income students. It went to general operating budgets."

                                                That may be. That's certainty legal and since the district saw a huge amount of funding cuts on the wake of the recession, the cut a lot of positions, that may even be the right thing to do but it makes you think you're seeing these fast gaps in the income levels. Perhaps if low income kids had the resources that they were meant to have in the first place, would it be different?

Robert :                                Good question. I'd love to see this same data run done for suburban school districts across the county I think we would learn quite a lot.

                                                Number 2 Clara.

Clara:                                    In the book Split Screen Strategy, Ted Kolderie suggests that some students could benefit from graduating much earlier. Do you think rethinking the high school graduation age is a healthy or productive way to rethink the traditional education model?

Robert :                                Boy, oh boy, oh boy. I'm going to say something I've probably said a thousand times on this podcast which is, "It's complicated." I know that this is a very, "Which vain of ore to mine." A lot of people think, "We should have competency based classes. Why are having this lock, step, march, k-12, 13 grades and then you graduate. Let's let students proceed at their own pace, etc, etc."

                                                I get it. I'm sympathetic to it. The only counter argument that I would like to hear more of is, kind of the cultural orientation of school. I'm guessing all of us at this table, all of us listening to this, had that classic k-12 experience and yes we can see ways to improve it, but that's just the way we do school. Am I being fussy by just saying, "Well that's just the way we do school?" There's some intrinsic value to that. Let's be very, very careful about messing with that?

Kevin:                                   I guess this makes you the Edmund Burke of the educational reform.

Robert :                                That's right.

Kevin:                                   Educational reform has been pointed out by a contributor like Andy Smarick. It is sort of inherently seemingly bias toward change. Toward shacking up the status-quo. I think that's probably to it's benefit. The status-quo exists for a reason, of course.

                                                In the case of Kolderie's book, there is something persuasive about this case to me. He makes sort of a broader claim, and perhaps a indefensible claim, it's quoted in our review in this weeks Gadfly by Kate Stringer, that he reckons that with the number, I'm paraphrasing, with the number of restrictions that are in place, basically on the freedoms and the freedoms of movement and opportunity on adolescents, that they are the most discriminate against segment of people in our society.

Robert :                                Come on, that's a little bit of over statement.

Kevin:                                   Yeah, he's making sweeping claims. I see some truth in it. By 16 it seems to me, at least some high school students ought to be able to choose their own path.

Robert :                                Sure.

Kevin:                                   If that own path includes seeking employment outside of school. In high school I didn't even have the option of seeking part time employment.

Robert :                                Okay, I did. Name a fast food restaurant? I worked there.

Kevin:                                   How long did you stay, though? That's the question.

Robert :                                Longer than I should have perhaps. Maybe the job is still open.

                                                I don't want to over argue the case because I think there really is some wisdom, and he's Ted Kolderie, and who am I? I just get very, very nervous when we suggest just blowing up these models that are not merely academic. I'm bias here, my daughter's an athlete okay for example, it had been a very great big part of her schooling. I was involved in theatrical productions when I was in high school.

                                                We have schools for things other than academics. There's civic institutions. There are cultural places. They're athletic institutions for our kids. You can't pull one of these levers without disrupting some of the other ones. Do I think that there should be more high school models that allow the kinds of kids Ted is referring to to be better served? Of course. Do I want to upset the entire the apple cart and say, "Let's change the way we do high school in America?" I'm not quite there yet.

                                                Speaking of which, this is kind of related. Number 3 Clara.

Clara:                                    Dartmouth economist have suggested that the boom of the fracking industry has increased high school dropout rates. Are students being forced to chose between work and school?

Robert :                                I don't know if they're being forced to choose, but this data that's kinda fascinating says that they are choosing. Guess which one is losing?

Kevin:                                   It's school.

Robert :                                Right. It's kind of interesting. I know 1 or 2 young people who actually went out to North Dakota a few summer ago to work in the fracking fields and made a boat load of money, and they were real happy about that. This piece of research, I believe was from Dartmouth, suggested I think there was a 1 1/2% or 2% decline in graduation rates because they're linking this with job opportunities in fracking, which is kind of fascinating.

Kevin:                                   Yeah. It's actually even more stark than that. I think I saw 1.5% to 2.5% increase in the drop out rate for each percentage point increase in employment in the oil and natural gas fields. That's pretty striking.

Robert :                                It sure is.

Kevin:                                   It could very well be that this is another area that's impacted by the recession. Jobs are hard to come by and you have extraordinarily high paying jobs for extraordinarily low skilled workers.

Robert :                                Yup.

Kevin:                                   Perhaps it's only logical that they should seek employment outside of school, but there's a down side to that because these fields, which arise basically out of nowhere, often end up turn in to ghosts towns. Since it's peak in December of 2014, the national oil and gas industry has shed 8% of it's jobs.

Robert :                                Peek fracking.

Kevin:                                   Peek fracking. We may still see yet another spike at some point, but right now we got depressed fuel prices and that's leading to a lot of these places being shut down. While it makes perhaps short term sense, I think this case probably argues against my point from the previous segment.

Robert :                                Pick one Kevin.

Kevin:                                   Yeah, exactly. Let a 17 year old choose and he may choose $15 an hour in a fracking facility, but that could not be a good decision for long.

Robert :                                Aaron Churchill, our colleague, reviewed this report for The Gadfly and makes the point I think is the good and obvious and correct one, which is students should not have to choose. This perhaps reinforces Kolderie's point in the previous segment. If we want kids struggling, there's an interest in seeing them being upwardly mobile so that $15 hour job, yeah it's hard to say no to that, and let's applaud the initiative. That's great, but we don't want them dropping out of school. Is there a way, is there an educational school model that will allow them to do both. That will allow them to take advantage of short term economic opportunities, while continuing to matriculate. I don't know what that model is but maybe Ted Kolderie could get to work on that for us.

Kevin:                                   More over, I think it's just as a final point it's worth pointing out, that fracking is not necessary solely to blame for this. You see this in a lot of parts of the country where all of a sudden, employment opportunities blossom for folks without a lot of job skills. Construction would be a great example of the housing boom. If a 16 year old is sitting board in pre-calculus and he knows that he can be making oodles of money, literally 10's of dollars an hour working a low skill job, then they're going to be doing it regardless of whether it's fracking or another field. It's probably something we should keep in mind.

Robert :                                Yeah, exactly. Fracking is the current phenomenon, but there will be other opportunities like this. If you want to rethink high school, that's not a bad way to start is by looking at the economic opportunities that exist in making it possible for kids to take advantage of both their academic trajectory and the short term opportunities. Why not? Makes all the sense in the world.

                                                That's all the time we have for Pardon The Gadfly, and now it's time for Amber's Research Minute.

                                                How are you doing today Amber?

Amber:                                 Doing great. Just tired of the rain already and this thing has turned into a hurricane I hear.

Robert :                                Really?

Amber:                                 Yeah. Category 1, that's what I heard on the news this morning.

Robert :                                I did not know that. I was just going to ask you if you made the short list for The MacArthur Genius because Kevin won in 2012, which I didn't know until this morning.

Kevin:                                   This was a couple years ago. It was for my musical about James Otis.

Amber:                                 I did not know that.

Kevin:                                   Yeah.

Amber:                                 They have Geniuses of all different stripes, right? You can be a Genius in all different things, as I recall when I looked at it last time.

Robert :                                Indigo child theory of genius? We're all Geniuses.

Amber:                                 We're all Geniuses in some way. Yes.

Robert :                                I get that. I'm revealing myself to be completely unsophisticated with the exception  Ta-Nehisi Coates and Lin-Manuel Miranda, there were 22 people I could not have picked out at a police line up.

Amber:                                 Right.

Robert :                                Not that I expect to.

Amber:                                 Right. They're artists and musicians and thought leaders.

Robert :                                Right, but nobody from the world of education.

Amber:                                 Philosophers, yes. Right.

Robert :                                Right, so maybe next year.

Amber:                                 Maybe next year.

Robert :                                You and me. What do you got for us?

Amber:                                 All right. We got a new study out by NCES called School Composition and The Black-White Achievement Gap. We spend a lot of time talking about this achievement gap, don't we?

Robert :                                We do indeed.

Amber:                                 Uses data from the 2011 NAEP Grade 8 Math Assessment to examine the black-white achievement gap in light of the make up of the school. Specifically, how does the gap look in schools where the density of black students is high or low, which is simply the percentage again, of black students in a school. They use this density word which is a little off putting to me and maybe I'm just being overly sensitive here, but anyway, we talk about density of the school. That just is code word for how many black kids are in that school. Okay?

Robert :                                Okay.

Amber:                                 Key findings on average nationally, white students attended schools that were 9% black, while black students attended schools that were 48% black.

Robert :                                In the averages. Makes you wonder.

Amber:                                 On average nationally.

Robert :                                Okay.

Amber:                                 No surprise here, but the highest density schools were mostly in the south. Okay, we know that, and in cities. Low density schools were mostly in rural areas. All right, so that's no big surprise.

Robert :                                Right.

Amber:                                 Three-quarters of of public schools, that about 77%, are the lowest density, meaning 0% to 20% black students and 10% are highest density, which is 60% to 100% black students. Okay. That's all the descriptive stuff.

                                                Then they do another annalists where they control for factors such as social economic status and all these varies school and teacher and student characteristics. Then they apply all of these controls.

                                                Then they find that 1 white student achievement in the highest density categories, I mean highest density schools, did not differ from white student achievement in the lowest density schools. The white student achievement stayed static.

Robert :                                Regardless of ...

Amber:                                 Relative of whether you're in high density or low density. Yes.

                                                Number 2 for black students overall and especially black males, here we go with our black males again, achievement was lower in the highest density schools then in the lowest density schools. The black male kids had lower achievement in the higher density schools then in the lower density schools. Okay?

                                                Number 3, this is kind of interesting, there were no significant difference between the percentage of black student in a school in achievement for females. Whether the female was black or white, we didn't see statistically significant differences for the females.

                                                Again for the males, the black-white achievement gap was greater in the high density schools by about 25 points of a gap. In the lower density schools to was only 17 points with the gap. One thing to keep in mind, because it's descriptive, it's not causal, is that they can control first off things like family income, teacher credentials and all this other stuff but you still have a self selection bias. Your not going to wipe out that self selection bias no matter how many controls you try to throw in there. What we're saying is, there's something about parental motivation, for instance right, that we just can't measure. We've got to concede that students in these mostly, I'll use the word, "Segregated schools," right if you will, are going to be different then those who are in integrated schools in ways that we can't really measure. Okay?

                                                In the end I was just thinking to myself, the fact remains whatever you think about the study, it's mostly descriptive, it's correlational. We fret a lot about whether schools are segregated or not and what to do about them. I think this study is light on the answer to that because it's obvious a very complicated problem.

Robert :                                Sure.

Amber:                                 It's good descriptive information but I think that they really short change the fact that these kids are still different in fundamental ways that we can't measure.

Robert :                                The answer is, we need to know more?

Amber:                                 Yeah. I think we need to know more and I think that we need to concede that we can talk about these gaps and we can talk about how many black kids are in a school and how that impacts achievement and correlational away, but we can't be real definitive about these differences that we're seeing because we're not able to really figure out how these kids are fundamentally different.

                                                There's something going on here that these models can't capture. I was just saying, let's not die on the toward relative to these research finding's in particular. I think, and you guys know this more then anyone, in the school choice world right? Some of these no excuses schools are being sort of beat up on because they're not caring so much about integration. They're setting up schools in these inner-cities where these kids are and some folks are beating them up for that. I think this kind of research is trying to speak to that problem of what do we still do about these schools where you just don't have a lot of diversity?

Robert :                                Right. Great question and it's not going to go away anytime soon. Thank you Amber. That's all the time we have for this weeks Gadfly Show. Until next week.

Kevin:                                   I'm Kevin.

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

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.