Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn is Right: It’s Time to Abandon “Gifted and Talented” Label

August 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Let’s Retire the “Gifted and Talented” Label“, Michael Horn’s recent post in the Christensen Institute Newsletter, had a special resonance with me. Mr. Horn argues against the label because it is inextricably linked to the tests used to identify students who are “gifted and talented” and those tests, in turn, are inextricably linked to the grouping of students in age-based cohorts that fail to take the differences in rates of intellectual maturity. But my personal experience tells me there are at least two more reasons to abandon the label.

In 1957 I was in 4th grade at the Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, having moved to that city when my father was transferred by DuPont. I recall being amazed that the math topics offered that year were identical to the math topics I covered a year earlier in Pennsylvania. I also recall one news event that fall that captured the imagination of the nation: the USSR’s launching of Sputnik. One of the immediate responses to the launch was passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, an act that included millions of dollars for science education and an act that sought to identify the best and brightest students to help the US win the Space Race that was launched when Sputnik orbited the earth.

At the end of 5th grade, I was identified as one of the “best and brightest” students in Oklahoma and placed in a special program with several of my peers. I am certain my “excellence” in math classes helped in my identification as one of the “best and brightest”, an “excellence” that had more to do with Oklahoma’s lagging curriculum standards than my aptitude. I also am certain that my test scores helped as well, for I have always done well on the tests that stand as a proxy for “intelligence”.  For my 6th grade year in Oklahoma, our group was assigned what would come to be called “inter-disciplinary units” instead of traditional subject-matter classes, working on projects instead of worksheets. It was by far the best year I experienced in my entire K-12 schooling. The teachers and interns worked with us closely and provided individual tutoring and counseling and my classmates were all engaged and committed to learning. We were taunted by others in school on occasion, but once we got on the athletic fields at recess our status as “gifted and talented” students didn’t matter, only our ability to kick a soccer ball (incredibly we couldn’t play football at recess!) and pitch, catch, and hit a baseball.

A year later, my father was transferred back to Pennsylvania and because of the timing of our arrival and the fact that I was “from Oklahoma”, I was placed in the second highest cohort of 60-70 students in the homogeneous groupings in junior high school. I was no longer “gifted and talented”. Instead, I was among the 80% of students at South Junior High Schoo who were identified as UN-gifted and UN-talented. From that day forward I understood the preposterousness of classifying students based on test scores or “academic performance”, for despite the fact that I earned high grades and scored high on tests in 7th grade, there was no room for me in the classrooms in the highest performing cohort and so I was relegated to the second tier for the balance of my secondary education… that is until I qualified to take calculus in 12th grade making it impossible for me to “fit” into second tier classes elsewhere.

I tell this anecdote because it reinforces two adverse elements of identifying “gifted and talented” students. First, when a small group of students is segregated as being “gifted and talented” it simultaneously identifies those NOT identified as “UN-gifted and UN-talented” as my experience with “second tier” students in Pennsylvania demonstrated to me. The teachers who worked with our group in Junior High School constantly told us explicitly and implicitly that most of us in the class “were not college material” and that we needed to work hard if we ever hoped to go on for more education. I know my friends in the top division heard a different and far more positive message from their teachers. Secondly, any isolation of “gifted and talented” students necessarily excludes students who are moving from school-to-school or region-to-region. How many students are affected by this? According to an Education Week article by Sarah Sparks from 2016, 6.5 million students per year! And that same article included this finding:

High churn in schools not only can hurt the students who leave, but also those who remain enrolled. A 2014 report by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement in Georgia found schools with higher concentrations of mobile students had higher percentages of students with disabilities and fewer students in gifted education programs.

In a report on student mobility by the National Academy of Sciences, Chester Hartman, the research director for the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in Washington, noted that high-poverty urban schools can have more than half of their students turn over within a single school year.

“It’s chaos,” he said in the 2010 report. “It makes all the reforms—smaller classes, better-trained teachers, better facilities—irrelevant.

Not only does the identification of “gifted and talented” students penalize “late bloomers”, it also penalizes students attending schools with high levels of transience and stigmatizes all the UN-gifted and UN-talented students who are NOT identified. Michael Horn is right: it is time to retire the “gifted and talented” label for once and for all and begin to identify the unique gifts and talents of all the children.


MY ROUGH DRAFT Proposal for New Hampshire’s Democratic Candidates for Governor

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

To date the Democratic Party in New Hampshire has chosen to avoid making public education a major issue in their primary campaign, despite the horrific record of the incumbent GOP Governor, Chris Sununu, and the fact that his appointee for Commissioner of Education has repeatedly bashed school boards, teachers, and the public schools while advocating for vouchers. I offer this recommended platform for the Democratic party to consider in its effort to unseat incumbent Governor Chris Sununu. This ROUGH DRAFT of a platform uses a July 5, 2016 post offered by Ohio blogger Jan Ressengeras a template and draws on positions outlined in earlier posts of mine.

Introduction:  The Governor of New Hampshire should advocate for a comprehensive system of public education. One that serves all children, is democratically governed, publicly funded, universally accessible, and accountable to the public.

Close Opportunity Gaps by Increasing Funding to Property Poor Communities: The New Hampshire Constitution calls for the State to provide an adequate education for all children in an effort to ensure that all children receive equal opportunities to learn. A candidate for Governor should pledge to uphold this Constitutional mandate even if doing so would require an increase in funding for public education or an expansion of taxes. As it stands now, despite lawsuits won in court by property poor communities in our state, resources available to provide services for children in their public schools are wildly uneven. While children in affluent school districts have access to advanced curricula, abundant technology, the most experienced teachers, and a rich exposure to art, music and other enrichments and a wide array of co-curricular activities, children in property poor districts lack these opportunities for learning and support that more privileged children merely take for granted.

Tax and budget policies need to reduce disparities between property-rich and property-poor districts, strengthen local school boards, and provide all parents with a greater opportunity to support their children enrolled in school. Families in property poor towns often face challenges that prevent them from devoting the same level of support for their children as families in property-rich communities. Families facing economic challenges would benefit from the careful and intentional development of full-service, wraparound services that bring social and health services—health clinics, dental clinics, mental health clinics, after school programs, Head Start, and parent support programs—right into the school building. Families facing economic challenges need affordable, accessible, quality child care. Families facing economic challenges need a guaranteed living wage and labor policies that protect them by establishing work schedules and ensuring that employers inform their employees in advance of their work hours. Families facing economic challenges need employers to provide medical leave and maternity leave.

Reject Privatization and Vouchers:  Privatization and voucher plans presented as “choice” cannot address the challenges faced by property poor communities. Legislation that promotes enrollments in private schools and provides funding for homeschooling diverts scarce resources from public education, especially in property poor communities where schools are already underfunded. Legislation that promotes vouchers and tuition tax credits which use public funds to pay for students to attend private and parochial schools should be unalterably opposed as should any legislation that supports the creation of charter schools that are not governed by elected local school boards.

Restore Respect for a Profession of Well Trained, Certified Teachers: Our elected officials and State Department leaders must stop scapegoating school teachers. Public school teachers work tirelessly to improve the chances for all students in all schools in the State to advance and often do so in facilities that are outdated and without the resources they need to succeed. Instead of modifying certification standards for teachers to expand the applicant pools, we should increase the compensation for teachers, especially those serving in property-poor districts.

Re-Double the Effort to Replace Standardized Norm-Referenced Tests as the Primary Metric for School Success: New Hampshire was one of a handful of states that sought to limit the use of norm-referenced standardized tests as the sole metric for measuring school success. This effort should be fully supported by the Governor and Commissioner of Education and provided with the funding and manpower required for implementation.

Conclusion:  In order for public schools to succeed in New Hampshire, citizens must provide ongoing oversight, demand legislation that ensures equitable funding, and be willing to accept tax policies that either redistribute funds currently available or expand the funds needed to ensure that all children have the same opportunities as children attending property-rich schools. Justice in public education—the distribution of opportunity for all children and not just for some— can only be achieved systemically and with the full support of the Governor and Commissioner of Education.


In PA, Neither Candidate for Governor is Facing Fiscal Reality… and Neither are Voters

July 13, 2018 Comments off

Today’s Google feed featured three articles about a war of words between the two candidates for governor: the GOP’s Scott Wagner and the incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf. According to a US News and World Report article by AP reporter Mark Levy, Mr. Wagner is claiming, with no facts to support his claim, that the incumbent intends to short-change some school districts in the state by redistributing funds from districts with shrinking populations to growing districts who supported the Democratic party. This baseless claim comes from a candidate who decried the hold harmless provisions Mr. Wolf supported in order to increase funding for public education in the state. But Mr. Wolf cannot get off from a funding reality: the public schools in his state remain underfunded, the legislature seems unwilling to provide the tax increases needed to close the gap, and he has not indicated how he will close the gap.

What is happening in PA mirrors and illustrates the daunting challenges politicians face if they hope to keep promises. No one wants to see their taxes raised, no one wants to see their services cut, and no politician seems willing to point out this obvious: these two outcomes cannot be achieved without some kind of compromise. At this juncture, it seems that children are the ones who ultimately suffer the consequences.

Where You Are Born Determines Your Future… But Fixing That Reality is Vexing

July 12, 2018 Comments off

A the title of a recent NYTimes Upshot article by Neil Irwin describes a reality that vexes both economists and policy makers: “One County Thrives. The Next One Over Struggles. Economists Take Note.” The article uses Loudon County VA and Jefferson County WV as exemplars of this phenomenon, but there are several other paired counties across the nation that have the same issues. Here’s Mr. Irwin’s description of the divide:

Economically, Loudoun County is humming from the technology boom in Washington’s suburbs, with the number of businesses rising 49 percent from 2005 to 2015. But on the other side of that border, Jefferson County doesn’t have the same economic dynamism: The number of businesses in the county fell 11 percent in the same period, according to census data.

Mr. Irwin uses this as a springboard for political analyses, noting that the poorer counties supported Donald Trump in 2016 while the more affluent counties trended toward Hillary Clinton. He also notes that average increases, which drive macro-economic thinking, often mask marked differences in well-being, differences that can put regions into a death spiral due to “path dependence”:

But averages can mask a lot of discontent. If growth in jobs, incomes and output is concentrated in a few areas, the overall national numbers might look perfectly fine even as people in huge areas of the country feel despair and a lack of opportunity.

Path dependence may be one cause of recent trends. In a place with a depressed economy, for example, the most ambitious people move to places with more opportunity, leaving an even bleaker situation behind.

Having consulted in school districts in poor counties in New England and worked in a relatively poor county in Maryland, I repeatedly heard the lament about the outmigration of the “best and brightest”. Even New Hampshire, which has a relatively strong economy, is trying to hold onto those “ambitious people” who work as entrepreneurs and provide forward thinking local leadership.

Mr. Irwin doesn’t offer any clear answers to the steps counties or policy makers can take to address this divide. He describes an idea advanced by the Third Way think tank that suggested two bad ideas bookending a relatively good one: “...a public fund to support small-business loans in the struggling regions, nationwide broadband internet and vouchers to help the unemployed move to places where there are more jobs.” Increased broadband would clearly help counties attract new technology related or impacted businesses and hold onto those who favor their hometowns over other areas where technology is more readily accessible. Small business loans might make a difference, but only if the loans are available to existing businesses as well as new ones, who often get benefits that create resentment among existing ones. The notion of offering vouchers to help the unemployed move would only exacerbate the negative economic cycle sine those left behind would tend to be the elderly or those who have extended families in the area. Irwin concludes with this:

Individual proposals aside, experts haven’t formed a consensus on how to make economically moribund places feel more like economically dynamic ones. But it is clearer than ever that this divergence explains much of what ails the United States’ economy, and just maybe its politics, too.

Here’s an idea for Mr. Irwin and the “experts”: invest in local government agencies— including public education— instead of businesses. Local government agencies employ highly educated individuals whose salaries will fuel the local economy and whose commitment to developing community will attract other businesses to move into the town. If you want to make a community more vibrant and more attractive to new business ventures and the in-migrants who would follow, you need to invest in local government as well as business.

Christian Science Monitor Provides Excellent Overview of NYC Testing Debate

July 7, 2018 Comments off

In “Keep the Test! A Debate Flares Over Exam Based Public High Schools“, Christian Science Monitor  staff writers Stacy Teacher Khadaroo and Harry Bruinius provide a balanced overview of the complex issue of the use of a single standardized test to place students in “elite” public high schools. The city is attempting to provide a better racial and ethnic balance in its best high schools where nearly 7 out of 10 students in the school district are African-American or Latino but only 1 out of 10 “earn” places in these schools. I place the word “earn” in quotation marks because they gain a place in these competitive schools based on one and only one factor: their score on the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).

The point-counterpoint approach used by the writers provides a series of conundrums that arise from this policy  and allows the reader to see that defining merit is tricky. It illustrates how the replacement of the SHSAT will aggrieve one minority group, Asian Americans, in order to address the under-representation of two other groups. The most compelling quote came from an Asian American alum, who noted an irony in the ongoing debate:

Ted Chang says he and his wife, a graduate of an exam school, are for the mayor’s plan even though their children attend school in a neighborhood that would end up sending fewer students. “There’s something truly ironic about getting the alumni associations of our most popular science schools to coalesce around a test that social scientists have concluded is a very weak and inaccurate measure of academic potential,” he writes in an email.

Economic and educational justice will remain out of reach as long as high scores on standardized tests are conflated with “merit”. We need better metrics if we want a fairer and just economic and political system.

There’s an All-Out War on Kids, and Not Just on the Border

July 6, 2018 Comments off

While the great majority of Americans are outraged at President Trump’s treatment of immigrant children, few seem concerned by his treatment and the GOP’s treatment of children raised in poverty. George Goehl offers a disturbing list that should be the focal point of every Democratic candidate running for office in 2018.

Source: There’s an All-Out War on Kids, and Not Just on the Border

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Forbes’ Analysis of Impact of Influx of Puerto Rican Students Reflects Understanding of Expanded Mission of Public Schools

July 4, 2018 Comments off

Several months ago Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, destroying thousands of homes and businesses and the infrastructure of the island. As a result, thousands of parents and students moved into the United States, flooding cities and regions with established Puerto Rican residents. A recent Forbes article by Maria Amante described the impact of this in-migration on the districts affected by influx of students. In doing so, Ms. Amante acknowledged that the the nation’s public schools are underfunded and are expected to take on responsibility for far more than education. In describing the funding situation, Ms. Amante matter-of-factly writes:

The (in-migration) has put a strain on school district resources, at least over the near term. Public schools are notoriously underfunded, and public investment in K-12 has declined in the majority of states in the last decade, according to a 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

And in her description of the strain placed on schools, she writes:

School districts have multiple responsibilities. Not only are they entrusted with a child’s education, but to be successful in that task, they must also address a child’s health and welfare.Hurricane Maria thrust multiple traumas on the Puerto Rican students: not only did they live through a Category 4 hurricane, many saw their homes destroyed and were forced to relocate to a new, unfamiliar environment.

Our students have come with very similar experiences to refugee populations. The only thing they’d come with is the clothes on their back,” said Nadia Nashir, assistant superintendent of multilingual education at Buffalo Public Schools, where nearly 500 students from Puerto Rico relocated.

Almost nine months after Hurricane Maria, the migration continues. And classrooms and communities continue to welcome evacuees with open arms.

I was encouraged to see a mainstream publication like Forbes acknowledge that public schools are “notoriously underfunded” and are expected to take on the “health and welfare” of children as well as their education. This matter-of-fact statement could lay the groundwork for more funding for schools and the social services they partner with in an effort to support children.

I was also struck with the parallels between the de facto refugees and the many impoverished school children across our country who move from school to school and district to district because their parents are unable to afford housing. Like the Puerto Rican children, they often come to school with only the “clothes on their backs” and are constantly forced to “relocate to a new unfamiliar environment”. And, like the Puerto Rican children who survived Hurricane Maria, they are victims of education offered in schools that are “notoriously underfunded“, students who will never be helped by choices since their parents are homeless.