Talented Tenth

This post, by Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and AEI’s Rick Hess, was originally published in the Washington Post.

President Obama’s remarks on inequality, stoking populist anger at
“the rich,” suggest that the theme for his reelection bid will be not
hope and change but focus on reducing class disparity with government
help. But this effort isn’t limited to economics; it is playing out in
our nation’s schools as well.

The issue is whether federal education efforts will compromise
opportunities for our highest-achieving students. One might assume that a
president determined to “win the future” would make a priority of ensuring that our ablest kids have the chance to excel.

To Obama, however, as for President George W. Bush, such concerns are
a distraction at best. Last year the Education Department’s civil
rights division announced that it would investigate local school
policies that have a “disparate impact
on poor or minority students — signaling a willingness to go to court
if department officials think that school systems have too few of such
children in gifted programs or Advanced Placement courses. This bit of
social engineering ignores the unseemly reality that advantaged children
are statistically more likely to be ready to succeed in tough classes
than are low-income children raised in households with fewer books and
more television.

The result is a well-intended but
misguided crusade to solve via administrative...


Last week, the Departments of Education and Justice released new guidance for school districts and institutions of higher education
on constitutionally-sound ways to encourage racial diversity and avoid
racial isolation. As I’ve written before, I’m a fan of well-conceived
efforts (like “controlled choice” a la Kahlenberg) to promote school
integration, and I think Washington, D.C. is sorely in need of such an approach. (That’s what D.C. parents should be fighting for–not an end to school choice.)

Furthermore, on “local flexibility” grounds, I’m willing to give
school districts some leeway if they want to make school integration a
high priority.

That said, the guidance
for elementary and secondary education includes some odious and
potentially damaging suggestions for America’s 150-odd
academically-selective public high schools–including powerhouses like
New York’s Stuyvesant and Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson:

Some school districts have schools or programs to which
students apply and are selected through a competitive admissions
process. School districts seeking to achieve diversity or avoid racial
isolation may develop admissions procedures for competitive schools or
programs to further those interests.

Example 1: A school district could identify
race-neutral criteria for admission to a school (e.g., minimum academic
qualifications and talent in art) and then conduct a lottery for all
qualified applicants rather than selecting only those students with the
highest scores under the admission criteria, if doing so would help to
achieve racial

Guest Blogger

As part of the release of our new study, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Performance: Performance Trends of Top Students, we are hosting a forum for experts to respond to its findings. Today's guest is ASCD's Jessica Hockett .

This report attempts to answer the critical and largely-neglected question of how high-performing students are faring in the NCLB-era classroom. The findings speak to the messy and inconvenient reality that individual students' abilities are not fixed, nor their development predictable. For better and worse, changes in a learner's academic achievement occur both?because and in spite of what and how he or she is taught.

Systematic reform efforts of the past two decades have fallen far short of encouraging teachers to expect the best from and provide high-end challenge for learners across the academic spectrum. Unfortunately, many children below, at, and beyond grade-level standards are settling for less than the highest quality curriculum and instruction in the name of serving struggling students well.

Our schools would surely see more growth at every performance level if educators were provided with training and support in how to teach all learners as though they were the highest of flyers. At minimum, all teachers should be equipped to plan lessons that emphasize conceptual understanding and application, leverage classroom-level formative assessment results, and use strategies that attend to individual differences. The culprit of stagnation and regression is not...

"Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first study to examine the performance of America's highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and "leaving no child behind" coming at the expense of our "talented tenth" and America's future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.
Guest Blogger

We asked a few experts to weigh in on our new study, "Do High Flyers Maintain Their Performance: Performance Trends of Top Students," as part of an online forum we'll be hosting on Flypaper over the next couple days. Here is a guest post by Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.

These results are distressing, but not surprising. As I note in my forthcoming essay "Our Achievement Gap Mania" (appearing Wednesday in National Affairs), the past decade's relentless focus on "gap-closing" has pushed all other considerations to the periphery. We have to make choices, but self-interest and a proper respect for all children demands that we wrestle at length with how we prioritize the needs of some kids over those of others. Yet "gap-closing" has become a reflexive, bipartisan project. Would-be reformers talk of little else and to even question the priorities of gap-closing is to be, at best, deemed ill-informed and, at worst, branded a racist.

Gap-closing has become the lexicon of federal officials and funders, of advocates and analysts. It has fueled funding priorities, shaped federal programs, driven policies, and informed practice. It has had real consequences and now we see, thanks to the careful efforts of Xiang et al., that some of these are problematic. (I'm curious what the results would have been if Xiang et al. had been able to examine the growth of high-flyers in subjects like science or foreign...

Brookings scholar Tom Loveless examines tracking and detracking in Massachusetts middle schools, focusing on changes that have occurred and the implications for high-achieving students. Among the findings: detracked schools have fewer advanced students in math than tracked schools and detracking is more popular in schools serving disadvantaged populations.
This publication reports the results of the first two (of five) studies of a multifaceted research investigation of the state of high-achieving students in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era. Part I examines achievement trends for high-achieving students since the early 1990s; Part II reports on teachers' own views of how schools are serving high-achieving pupils in the NCLB era.
Tracking and ability grouping strategies differ widely from school to school. They diverge even more widely from their portrayal in the popular criticisms of the 1980s. This report digs into the sensitive matter of whether those criticisms are valid today. The answer tells a more complicated and more honest story than we have heard before on this topic.

Why some schools rocket to the top

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The New York Post

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Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools

Chester Finn on the Virtues of Public Exam Schools

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National Review Online

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