Upward Mobility

Nationally and in Ohio, we work to promote policies and practices that help children born into poverty transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults, with a particular focus on what role our schools can play. Through publications, events, and commentary, we advocate for proven paths to the middle class, including high-quality career and technical education, a focus on high-achieving disadvantaged students, and the "Success Sequence."

Resources:

Our many upward-mobility-related blog posts are listed below.


Fordham’s upward mobility experts:


Maryann Woods-Murphy

I am a gifted and talented specialist for a school district in New Jersey. It is my job to make sure that students receive the proper level of acceleration and enrichment in elementary school.

But every single day, I fail at my job.

I pull students out for challenging lessons or guide them through academic competitions and enrichment experiences, but it is not enough.

They seek me out, even in crowded hallways. “I’m studying botany now,” said one fifth-grader as he lugged his backpack to class, making sure to keep in a straight line. “I’ll let you know how it goes.” I remind him that he can check in on our Google classroom to get feedback on his project and I feel confident that his classroom teacher will be interested in listening to his ideas.

The teachers I work with are magicians at differentiating instruction, creating online folders and spaces for students to go when they are finished early with their regularly scheduled work. Still, they too admit that they can never do enough for their gifted, talented, and advanced learners.

In recent years, the need for extreme differentiation has become even greater, as knowledgeable parents load their children’s...

Noel Jett

So, you’re considering radical acceleration. You’re running out of education options, and you miss the feeling of actually being challenged with your school work. I started community college when I was thirteen and transferred to Texas A&M when I was fourteen, so I feel your struggle. Now, I’m working on my Ph.D. in Gifted and Talented Education and I am happy to tell you both my experience and the research conclusions are positive. Radical acceleration is safe, healthy, and viable so far!

But I have bad news, too: There is one major con to this option, one that the research doesn’t fully grasp. The more intelligent someone is, and specifically the more advanced they are in school, the higher the likelihood they will have sworn themselves to secrecy about it. This is not completely without purpose: I find it quite fair to say that people constantly drawing attention to their own strengths are narcissistic. However, what is truly upsetting is the fact that it quickly becomes taboo to even tell someone the truth as a radically advanced child. Even if you never refer to yourself as intelligent, just plainly state that you are not in middle school but enrolled full-time...

Roy Ghosh

How do we become famous? And can gifted students, or math and science whiz kids ever attain fame? What do Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes, and Emma Watson have that young, gifted students do not? Their work is appreciated, or more so, adored by their community. Their fans motivate them to do more, to make more music, to star in more movies. It is hard to imagine budding scientists experiencing anywhere near the same level of acceptance, awareness, or inspiration from their peers. I obviously believe that they should—why shouldn’t they? They could save millions of lives, cure diseases, and solve the world’s most significant problems.

Yet, most people would laugh at this next statement: Young science nerds need to be as famous as athletes, singers, and YouTubers.

Why is this absurd? Because people get more excited watching sports games, having their hearts beat until the last second of the match. They become engrossed watching crazy people doing hilarious things. Yet reading a long research paper with scientific jargon, even if it discusses the cure to cancer, is quite boring for most.

The problem is not that scientists should be getting millions of Twitter followers or appearing on the Tonight Show...

Tim Marzullo

I remember a meeting when Backyard Brains was just beginning in early 2009, when we were receiving guidance from the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. We were just finishing up graduate school and learning the actual mechanics of forming a startup company, something very new to us—the basic things: how to incorporate, how to find customers, how to scale a prototype into a product, and how to raise funding with government technology grants or venture capital. We were two recent PhDs with a couple prototypes, some cockroaches, a bit of presentation chutzpah, but not much else than that.

During a meeting on ideas to formalize the business and begin sales, an engineering advisor said, “I love the cockroach, but you guys need a better logo. Engineers are not creative, so hire a design student to help you with it.”

Working with designers to develop a logo is useful and certainly uncontroversial advice, but the comment that “engineers are not creative” hit me like a punch, and I remember little else that occurred in that meeting.

Engineers are not creative? And this was an engineer saying this?! Any time I look at any machine that does its function...

Three years into his first gig as a recruiter/trainer at a job skills program in San Francisco, Mauricio Lim Miller recognized a striking contradiction that changed the trajectory of his life and work. As a person whose family had overcome great personal hardship and who was now trying to help others do the same, he could not reconcile the way he ran his own life with the way he was expected to run a social service program. The proscriptive, top-down structure of so-called benefits programs like his emphasized the “deficits” of their clients and often sought to substitute narrow program rules for individual options. Those rules were sometimes contradictory (as when multiple programs were involved) and sometimes self-defeating (e.g. child-care subsidies that lapsed if a program participant earned a little too much money from work). Even worse, he became convinced that such service programs were conferring greater benefit on their employees than on their clients. When he was invited to attend President Clinton’s State of the Union address as recognition for his work, Miller says he nearly declined out of guilt. As soon as he was given a chance by California Governor Jerry Brown to reshape the assistance available to...

M. René Islas

As the ink dries on the recently enacted gifted education law, Public Law 17–82, Connecticut has the opportunity to lead the nation in empowering local school administrators and teachers in how to best serve our gifted and talented students.

The field of education knows what works to serve gifted and talented students, including how best to identify these students, how to appropriately use acceleration strategies and how to best prepare teachers to work with this population. Best practice guidelines called for in the law will offer direction and clarity to districts on gifted education practices; guidance many practitioners lack today.

To move this forward, we encourage state officials to follow three important steps.

First, they should remove policy barriers to learning and establish a sound statewide policy on acceleration. Research demonstrates that acceleration strategiessuch as advancing students an entire grade or in certain subjectsare one of the most effective approaches to help ensure all children, regardless of background, receive quality gifted and talented programing.

Acceleration strategies allow students to access advanced content, skills, or understanding before their expected age or grade level. Rather than load students up with more content they have already mastered, acceleration helps truly challenge these...

Tyne Watts

I attended my first summer camp at six years old. After that experience, I looked forward to attending every year. At summer camp, I was exposed to new things with friendly staff in a positive environment. During one year of summer camp, the academic enrichment was so great that I was able to test out of the traditional second grade math program when school started. My school created a special math program for me and a few other students who attended the same summer camp with me. Two years later, I found myself being identified as a gifted student and math is one of my favorite subjects. Even though all camps don’t offer academic enrichment, they do expose kids to lots of new concepts and ideas that are valuable. I think all kids deserve stimulating opportunities like that during the summer.

Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order in 2016 mandating that all Maryland public schools start after Labor Day. The executive order cites the August heat and state economic deprivation as reasons for the mandate. Starting school later may help Maryland’s workforce and economy thrive, but it also creates additional stress for working parents who can’t stay...

Jeff Danielian

As often happens when I find myself working outside on my deck, in the dry warm heat of the summer, with thunderous fireworks flashing, I become nostalgic and reminiscent in my writing. With the classroom door closed for a bit and my mind free to think about education, I thought I would share my own story.

I am often asked, as I am sure many of you are, “How did you become a teacher?” My response is never quite the same, and depending on how much time I have to discuss my winding road to the classroom, the story revolves around a simple phrase uttered over and over by a past mentor, a geology professor who still resides in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It is a simple one, and I have it scribbled on a sheet of paper on the wall in my classroom: Education is not about information.

One lesson stands out for me. I will never forget looking down at an aerial view of the Grand Canyon through a pair of stereoscopic glasses. It is one of those moments that, upon reflection, strengthened my belief in the power of education.

Our professor gave a brief introduction to...

This blog originally appeared as an editorial in today’s edition of the Columbus Dispatch.

The Ohio Senate just voted to allow the class of 2018 to receive diplomas without demonstrating proficiency in a single academic subject area. The competence-free graduation option, which came from recommendations made by the State Board of Education under pressure from local school superintendents, would award students a diploma upon meeting just two of eight conditions.

These include softballs like attending school regularly, obtaining a 2.5 senior-year grade-point average or completing community service. Show up, do a nominal number of assignments or a few months of part-time volunteer work, and the diploma is yours. Forget about setting a pitifully low bar; Ohio is about to remove it altogether.

It’s important to remember why, decades ago, Ohio and many other states decided to set competency-based graduation requirements in the first place. Namely, too many local school districts were willing to hand out diplomas that their graduates could not read, to young adults who had made it to 18 with the reading, writing, and math skills of grade-school students. The system had failed them.

The problem was most pernicious for poor and minority students, who were much...

Stephen Noonoo

Today’s colleges of education generally do a good job prepping new teachers for the traditional classroom. For teaching students outside the mainstream, the training is less robust. At least, that’s what Alison Alowonle discovered when she stepped into her first student-teaching job in a gifted ed magnet school thirteen years ago and fell in love with the students.

When she moved to a classroom of her own, she started small, clustering increasing numbers of gifted students each year before designing her own pullout program at Excelsior Elementary in Minnetonka, Minnesota, picking up a certificate in gifted education along the way. This year she was one of eleven finalists for her state’s 2017 Teacher of the Year award.

“Gifted” is a label that’s often difficult to quantify, but there’s little doubt Alowonle’s elementary students are exceptional. To qualify for her class, students must demonstrate an IQ upward of 140 and pass through a simulation designed to test their intellect. But intelligence alone is not what makes them unique. According to Alowonle, her students also exhibit high levels of inward motivation and drive; “intensity” is one of her favorite words to describe it.

Here, Alowonle shares her recommendations for engaging...

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