15 states don’t track the education of high-performing students at all.
Dear NYC Families,
I recently came across this article online about neglected Gifted and Talented Students. Every time I hear this I get extremely upset. Our schools are failing students in many ways. It has been our mission, for the past 12 years, to provide all children with affordable, customized, and accelerated learning solutions.
We believe in identifying and nurturing gifted students from an early age and continuing to provide them with individualized learning solutions throughout their entire schooling.
Under federal law, states and school districts must track the educational progress, or lack thereof, of poor students, minorities and those still learning English. And they’re continually working to ensure those students don’t fall behind, or if they do, that there’s a plan in place to catch them up.
But what about the country’s highest-achieving students? Who’s responsible for them? And what about disadvantaged gifted students who often lack support systems and depend entirely on public schools?
As it turns out, not very many people. In total, 35 states require schools to identify their top-performers, though that doesn’t mean they’re obliged to act if they begin falling behind. Fifteen states don’t track them at all.
And in a nation of approximately 20,000 public schools, only about 200 are structured specifically to accommodate such students.
“In trying to lift the floor, we’ve forgot about the ceiling,” said Chester Finn, president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
“What the country has been doing for 20 plus years is rewarding teachers for getting kids to the minimum proficiency level,” said Finn, whose new book, Failing Our Brightest Kids, tackles the issue. “There’s been no pressure to focus on high-achievers.”
To be sure, safeguards to ensure low-income students, minorities and other groups of students are attaining a minimum level of academic achievement are necessary, and this is not the first time the problem of how to best support high-achieving students has surfaced.
But the debate is emerging again largely as a result of growing concerns over the United States’ international competitiveness and its difficulty preparing students for careers in science, technology, engineering or math, or STEM, fields.
In 2012, for example, 27 of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, or the OECD, had larger percentages of students score in the top two tiers of an internationally bench-marked exam than in the U.S.
What’s just as troubling, Finn and others argue, is that few successful students from disadvantaged backgrounds are graduating from high school and enrolling in challenging colleges that could catapult their educational attainment and prospects for upward mobility.
“As poor kids, even when you start off smart, there’s a back slide,” said Harold Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which operates a scholarship program for top-performing low-income students. “The longer high-performing poor kids stay in public school, the worse they do.”
That slide, Finn’s book notes, is most significant between 4th and 12th grade.
Finn and Levy said solutions to the problem of ensuring disadvantaged talented students continue to thrive is difficult because not everyone agrees on what qualifies as a program for gifted students.
“One size does not fit all and we do not know what works best,” Finn said.
But there are some ways to get at the issue, they said, including convincing more states and school districts to track top-performing students and intervene when they’re falling behind; preparing teachers how to keep their most talented students engaged and learning while also tending to the needs or the majority of their students; offering summer school as a way to accelerate learning for students during the summer instead of as a remediation tool.
“States have to require that there is a pathway for these students,” Levy said. “Dear local education authority, you must require it.”