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:


Ronald F. Ferguson, Ph.D.

The following text is an excerpt from Aiming Higher Together: Strategizing Better Educational Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color, an Urban Institute report authored by Ronald F. Ferguson of Harvard University. The report proposes ways to improve the educational outcomes of boys and men of color by altering conditions in homes, schools, and communities to create “person-environment fits” that better foster achievement. Dr. Ferguson’s strategies for accomplishing this span from birth to adulthood, and concern everything from preschool nurturing to respect outside of the classroom during the school years.

In the report, Dr. Ferguson splits these strategies into three sections, one of which he calls “disproportionality and bias.”

Ferguson defines bias as the absence of neutrality. He distinguishes three types of neutrality: equal application of criteria (for example, the test scores and grades required to qualify for a particular placement is the same for students of different groups); equal quality of options (for example, the quality of instruction is the same in different tracks); and equal quality of access (in this case, the criteria are biased insofar as they do not treat equally qualified people equally). He uses these distinctions to put several issues in perspective, including tracking...

 
 
Michael Hansen

Are we ready to expand career and technical education offerings as the next frontier in education policy? “College- and career-ready” has been an aspirational label in education for years, though many in the know recognize that the label is generally used as a stand-in for the Common Core State Standards—and the focus there is decidedly tipped toward college readiness and away from career preparation. Yet in recent years, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Education have been promoting the career side of the label more, making the case that technical education is not at odds with academic preparation. With union leadersindustry groups, and researchers joining the list of those backing it, career and technical education appears to be well poised to become the next viable policy lever to help improve the plight of America’s youth.

Last week, the Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C. released a new report on career and technical education that adds some fuel to this fire. In it, author Shaun Dougherty examines high school, college, and labor market outcomes for three cohorts of Arkansas high school students based on their differential participation in career and technical education coursework. The study stands out for its focus on this array of outcomes,...

 
 
Lisa Riggs

Over the past year, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has published numerous articles (including a book) explaining how schools across the country are overlooking high-achieving poor students. In the age of ESSA, the role of the states and districts in serving its high-achievers is more important than ever before. In Texas, where I live and work, nearly 8 percent of children are identified as gifted and talented, but before my arrival in the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), only 4.5 percent of students were so identified. That percentage was unacceptable, so the district reinvented its approach. Its current methods—now much improved—ought to be an example of what other districts across the country can do to better serve high-ability boys and girls.

In December 2015, the SAISD board approved a universal screening assessment and matrix for all first and fifth graders for Gifted and Talented Education (GATE). Therefore, every student would have an equal opportunity to be identified for these essential GATE services. (In a district where 92 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged and 98 percent of students are Latino or African American, this work is even more critical.)

Identification is just the first step in...

 
 

Career and technical education (CTE) schools and academies are important and impactful, but they’re also scarce and expensive. To develop the skills of the millions of students who want high-quality CTE, we must be more egalitarian in the ways students access it—and the prospects for economic stability and success that it can create.

CTE is not just about the courses students take; it’s also about form: how, when, and where courses are delivered. And this varies depending on the state, district, and even school.

In most cases, the courses a student can take are determined by what’s available at the school site where they are enrolled. Most traditional high schools offer basic CTE classes in addition to academic coursework. Some host school-within-a-school “career academies” where academy students take CTE coursework focused around a single career theme (while taking academic classes at the host school); non-academy students can’t take these classes. There are also fully independent, self-contained career/technical high schools that serve as enrolled students’ home schools. Like academies, CTE schools usually focus on developing students’ skills to prepare them to enter a particular industry.

Some CTE programing is open to more students. Centralized locations called regional technical centers offer a diverse variety of...

 
 
Shaun M. Dougherty

Recently, there has been increased interest in career and technical education as a mechanism to create pathways to college and employment. This increased interest has occurred despite the fact that, aside from two studies on career academies, there is relatively little high-quality evidence about whether and how CTE provides educational and work-related benefits to students. In my new report with the Fordham Institute, Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes?, we capitalized on the willingness of state agencies to partner with us and share data as a way to answer these questions. Our ability to produce answers is related to the rich datasets from Arkansas that enabled us to translate this data and available computing power into actionable policy findings.

In the past, roughly one in five students took three or more high school courses in a field classified under career and technical education. But some recent evidence suggests that the number of students taking a larger share of CTE courses may have receded during the expansion of high-stakes, test-based accountability. Very little of the data accumulated in recent years has been examined to explain how major shifts in policy and educational practice may have...

 
 

In the midst of Illinois's historic budget stalemate, funding for education and much else remains in dispute. Gov. Bruce Rauner and the legislature haven't been able to agree on major priorities, even as Chicago schools go broke and the Chicago Teachers Union looks more likely to strike every day.

A fundamental issue in these disputes is whether to keep spending money on present priorities, practices, and programs or to instead seize the opportunity to make major reforms.

One set of reforms that belongs on the table is Illinois's shameful neglect of its high-ability students, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), just 2 percent of Prairie State 8th graders who are eligible for subsidized lunches reached the Advanced level in math in 2015 (NAEP's designation for high scorers).

The racial gaps are even worse. Not even one percent of black students reached NAEP's highest level, and just 3 percent of Hispanic youngsters did. Nine percent of white students got there—not great, but ten times the ratio for African-Americans.

A major reason for this lamentable performance is Illinois's inattention to high-ability students.

Click here to read the rest of the article...

 
 

Ask any group of high school teachers, and they will report that the most frequently heard question in their classrooms is, “When are we ever gonna use this?” In a traditional college prep program, the honest answer is usually, “Maybe when you get to the university.” But in the real world? Depending on the class, maybe not at all.

However, in high-quality Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, that question is moot. Students learn skills that will help them prepare for stable careers and success in a modern, global, and competitive economy. A student who wants a future in architecture doesn’t question his first drafting course in high school. One interested in aerospace sees value in her introduction to engineering design class. An aspiring medical professional is enthusiastic, not indifferent, about high school anatomy.

Unfortunately for millions of American students, CTE is not a meaningful part of their high school experience. Instead, they are shuffled through large, bureaucratized schools that do not adequately prepare them for anything, be it college, career, or both.

In large part, this is because CTE has been chronically neglected by American education leaders and policymakers. Many CTE advocates suspect that it’s because of the damaged...

 
 
Myles Mendoza

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

 
 
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...

 
 

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