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."


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

Fordham’s upward mobility experts:

In fashion these days are craft breweries, shabby-chic decor, and farm-to-fork restaurants. But what’ll get you a seat at the cool-kids table in the education world? At the top of the list is dismissing—or is it “dissing”?—standardized test scores. Just consider some of the latest reactions, fresh off the release of Ohio’s 2017–18 school report cards. An unnamed Columbus City Schools official told the Dispatch, “There’s far more to measuring a child’s learning and growth than what’s scored on the state’s annual Local Report Card, which offers only a limited snapshot.” The Zanesville superintendent told his local  paper, “When we look at that [report card data], I don't think it accurately reflects the work of our students and teachers.” Up in Northeast Ohio, a local school official told the Akron Beacon Journal, “I’m not panicked because state tests suggest we do poor in a certain area. I don’t necessarily think state tests are valid and reliable.”

It’s true that test scores don’t capture important intangible qualities of schools. And yes, students are “more than test scores”; they also need to develop character traits that enable them to live as responsible adults. But none of this gives us...


Editor’s Note: As Ohioans prepare to elect a new governor this November, and as state leaders look to build upon past education successes, we at the Fordham Institute are developing a set of policy proposals that we believe can lead to increased achievement and greater opportunities for Ohio students. This is the second in our series, under the umbrella of ensuring seamless transitions to college or career. You can access all of the entries in the series to date here.

Proposal: State agencies should connect, or allow a research university to connect, students’ K–12 and higher-education records with workforce data, such as wages, career fields, or unemployment records. This proposal may not require legislation but would require state leadership to coordinate between agencies and ensure a secure IT system that protects sensitive personal information. With an integrated information system, the state could then begin reporting (though not necessarily use for formal accountability purposes) workforce outcomes by high school or college and university.

Background: For more than a decade, Ohio has reported extensive data on K–12 student outcomes on its school report cards and in publicly accessible databases. These data systems are integral to transparently reporting proficiency and growth on...


On a recent visit to Xenia schools, State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said: “I think so many times we underestimate what students can do. Our hearts tell us to be a little more protective—I’m not sure they can reach that level or handle that kind of work. But time and time again as I go across the state talking to teachers, I find that their socks are blown off because kids always are able to exceed even the highest expectations we set.”

Superintendent DeMaria is right, but not everyone in authority seems to agree. As you’ll recall, doomsayers sounded the alarm back in 2016, declaring that hordes of students would never meet the state’s new and tougher graduation requirements, which offer young Ohioans three pathways to a diploma. Of the three, the state test pathway caused the most concern: Students earn one to five points based on their performance on seven end-of-course (EOC) exams, and must earn a total of eighteen out of thirty-five points to graduate. District officials claimed that students were struggling to accumulate eighteen points because the tests were so difficult.

Perhaps unsure how to judge that concern, and open to giving schools more...


You’ve probably heard by now that basketball superstar LeBron James opened a school for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Called I Promise School (IPS), it’s a joint effort between the I Promise Network, the LeBron James Family Foundation, and Akron Public Schools. The newly renovated building opened its doors on July 30 to 240 students in third and fourth grade, along with forty-three staff members. Though he’s taking his talents to Los Angeles, King James himself was on hand to dedicate the new school.

Just like students who are part of the I Promise Network that serves more than 1,300 children and their families across the district, IPS students were identified based on their reading achievement data. After identifying students who were a year or two behind grade level, administrators used a lottery to randomly select which children would be offered a spot at the new school. These students will receive free uniforms, transportation within two miles, tuition to the University of Akron when they graduate, a bicycle and helmet, and a variety of other resources. Their families will have access to GED classes, job placement assistance, and a food pantry.

James is being lavished with praise...

Rudy Crew

The world is getting more flooded by issues of disproportionality whether in education, politics, or opportunities to vote. A myriad of examples exist in the form of policies that pit people against each other rather than cause the steady increase in overall opportunities which comes with raising the bar for everyone.

In education, creating the proverbial level playing field that enables minority and low-income students to be identified and served in gifted education programs is critical. There are lots of children, children of color, children whose first language is not English, children living in poverty, who do not get access to gifted programs for all kinds of reasons. Either they never learn about these programs or they are not looked at as kids who ultimately could benefit from them. Many of these children have undeveloped abilities that may never be realized.

As M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, recently said, this really is a “social justice issue…children living in poverty, and from racial and ethnic and language minorities, are not getting a fair shake at getting access to gifted services.”

A study by the National Center for Research on Gifted Education found that...

Apoorva Panidapu

According to Apoorva Panidapu’s parents, their thirteen-year old daughter is a joyous person both on the face of it and to the core. Her most noticeable features are her radiant smile and her remarkable speed (except when it comes to chores).

For her parents, it seems that Apoorva is always in perpetual motion as she tries to satisfy her insatiable curiosity. By three years old, she was devouring one book after another, her father remembers. Apoorva is just so excited about so many things, including drawing, music, writing, speech and debate, Kung Fu, problem solving, teaching others, and everything in between. She can recite more than two hundred digits of Pi rapid fire, and she can memorize a deck of cards in fifteen minutes. “We don’t need a calculator when she’s around, or RAM for that matter, because her speed and memory are super charged for puzzles, codes, and theorems,” her mother confesses with a shy smile.

Recently, viewers all over the world got to see Apoorva’s love of learning on NBC’s Genius Junior, where she shared her passion for mathematics and competition. Apoorva was her team’s 'Super Brain for Number Cruncher' in the preliminary, semi-final, and...


A recent paper from the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) examined high school graduation requirements across the nation to determine whether they were aligned with requirements for each state’s public university system. By and large, the authors found a “significant misalignment” between states’ high school and college systems. This “preparation gap,” as the authors call it, forces students seeking admission to their states’ university systems to take additional coursework that isn’t required to earn a high school diploma.

To remedy this issue, the authors recommend that states require students to complete as part of their diploma requirements the fifteen-credit college-ready coursework that’s required by most public university systems. This includes four years of English; three years of math up through algebra II; three years of laboratory science, including biology and either chemistry or physics; three years of social studies, including U.S. or world history; and two years of courses in the same foreign language.

If there’s one big takeaway from the CAP paper, it’s that rigorous coursework requirements matter—not just for the students who are bound for college, but for everyone. Research shows that the fifteen-credit college-ready curriculum leads to beneficial outcomes for students regardless of...


Malcolm X once said, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” 

Wise words. Education has long been the source of opportunity, a passport if you will, for Americans to pursue a better life. But education isn’t a passive activity; it’s earned through hard work, preparation, attainment.

Starting in 2009, Ohio began to move away from a relatively low benchmark of competency—the Ohio Graduation Tests[1] (OGT)—and toward the more rigorous expectations of high school end-of-course exams as a precondition for obtaining a diploma.[2] The impetus was that too few students in Ohio were leaving high school with the skills necessary either to enroll in postsecondary education without costly remediation or to enter the workforce. The new system, deemed the “College and Work Ready Assessment System,” was designed to require more work on the part of students to be successful and to act as an effective replacement of the OGTs and their low expectations.

Just as the requirements were finally set to be enforced, however, concerns that too few students would meet the higher bar resulted in development of a new and...

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...