January 17th, 2014

Are Academically Advanced Kids Human Capital?

In this recent article in Newsweek titled “America Hates Its Gifted Kids”, author Chris Weller argues that extremely advanced learners are human capital that is being squandered by the US education system.  Here’s an excerpt:

Tomlinson’s frustrations, much like those experienced by many of the nation’s public school teachers, are compounded by the larger forces acting on the environment in which she works. Figures released early last year showed 80 percent of entrants into City University of New York schools needed remediation in reading, writing and math in order to enroll. But Tomlinson has been able to work within the constraints by balancing her time to ensure uplift on both ends. “I’m extremely grateful to be working at a school that consistently reminds me to continue to push my gifted and talented students,” she said. “They do not necessarily have the motivation, skills or access to outlets for growth to succeed on their own. They need me, too.” After all, a gifted 12-year-old is still a 12-year-old.

But for every Tomlinson, there will be a teacher (or five) who can’t manage the delicate balance, or is uncomfortable teaching outside the norm. For the U.S. to reach the upper echelons of educational attainment in an increasingly competitive global environment, it probably needs change that comes from both the bottom, through teachers like Tomlinson, and the top, from serious education reform focused on cultivating intellectual achievement. Before innovative ideas like Lubinski’s can take hold, there needs to be a consensus among all the stakeholders that winning is important, and it isn’t enough to simply enter the race.

The complete article is here.


January 8th, 2014

Invisibility of Students with Exceptionally Advanced Learning Needs

The staff of,  a science reporting website, recently published a piece titled “Are Gifted Children Getting Lost in the Shuffle?” The story cites a 2013 research journal article by David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow, of Vanderbilt University called “Who Rises to the Top? Early Indicators”.

Here’s an excerpt from the ScienceDaily article:

“Despite their remarkable success, researchers concluded that the profoundly gifted students had experienced roadblocks along the way that at times prevented them from achieving their full potential. Typical school settings were often unable to accommodate the rapid rate at which they learned and digested complex material. When students entered elementary and high school classrooms on day one having already mastered the course material, teachers often shifted focus away from them to those struggling with the coursework. This resulted in missed learning opportunities, frustration and underachievement, particularly for the exceptionally talented, the researchers suggest.”

The complete article is here.

January 2nd, 2014

NYTimes Editorial Board Calls for Improved Gifted Education

The editorial board of the New York Times recently published this call to action, asking US education leaders to greatly increase efforts to identify and develop students of every race and class who have both the intelligence and drive to succeed at very high levels. The piece, titled “Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up“, offers specific suggestions on how to improve gifted education.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The federal and state governments should support education of the gifted more aggressively. The federal government provides very little money to educate gifted students and state financing is spotty, with many states leaving it to local school districts. The states face a loss of federal funds if students don’t reach minimum proficiency levels, but they are given no such incentive to propel top students to defined standards of excellence. The federal government should require schools to monitor and improve the performance of their gifted students, backed up with financial incentives. Only eight states track the academic performance of gifted students as a separate group.

More money could help create a corps of teachers trained in identifying and teaching highly talented students. Many such students are never identified because of assumptions that overlook minority and low-income students. Currently, only three states require their general education teachers to have some type of training in gifted education and only 17 states require teachers in programs for the gifted and talented to have a credential for gifted education.”

The complete article is here.

December 19th, 2013

Interaction of Teaching-to-the-Test and Socioeconomic Status

Here’s an excerpt of an essay by University of California at Davis Professor Norman Matloff, titled “Let’s Not Panic Over U.S. Students’ Global Rankings“:

“Even former Premier Wen Jiabao has complained about China’s rote-memory approach to education. Chen Lixin, an engineering professor at Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xian, has warned that China produces students who can’t think independently or creatively, and have trouble solving practical problems. He wrote in 1999 that the Chinese education system “results in the phenomenon of high scores and low ability,” an observation germane to PISA results. In the 2009 tests, “students scored low in independent reading strategies, meaning they rely on teachers’ instruction on what to read,” according to the Shanghai Daily.

My hat is off to those 15-year-olds and Jiaoda contestants in Shanghai. But this isn’t the direction the U.S. should take. Yes, we need to bring up the proficiency of our weakest students — a social challenge that goes far deeper than the harrumphing about “fixing our schools” would indicate. Yet we shouldn’t bring down the level of the stronger students just to win international contests.”

The complete article is here.

December 10th, 2013

CPS Office of Academic Challenge Website is Launched!

The Cambridge Public School District’s Office of Academic Challenge now has it’s own website, with information, resources, a calendar, and more. The full website is here:

There is also now a link from the “Departments” section of the main CPSD website takes you to this introductory page:

Please let the Academic Challenge Program Manager, Paula Feynman, know if there are any resources that you feel would be helpful for her to add there.  You can reach her at 617-349-6427 or

November 8th, 2013

Racism in Education in the US

This Education Week blog post by Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers titled “Facing Racism” explores the difficult subjects of cultural and personal racism in education.

“And each of us is a more courageous leader if we wrestle long with ourselves to know whatever bias lives in us.  We have children watching and waiting for us to do something.  We cannot ignore the revelations that appear in the news.  They are our opportunities.  These are difficult steps to take and guidance along the way is essential.  No matter the process chosen, the first steps have to be to open the doors for the adults to begin to examine their own bias, or ignorance, or prejudice.  If we do not begin in earnest, to face the truth about our societal beliefs about being white or black or Asian, we cannot lead schools that are safe for children of color and we will not be preparing our students for lives as adults in welcoming, multi-cultural world.”

The complete article is here.

October 3rd, 2013

Rise in Advocacy for Advanced Learning Programs Across the US

This article in Education Week, titled “Parents Press for Attention to Programs for Gifted Students“, by Nora Fleming, examines efforts across the US to establish services and interventions for students with advanced learning needs.  Here’s an excerpt:

“According to Donna Ford, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education, minorities are also at a greater disadvantage in accessing gifted education because of districts’ measures to determine whether a student is gifted. These policies and procedures can discriminate against students who may not have had access to resources and opportunities outside of school that help highlight exceptional talents and abilities. Teachers often are ill-equipped to identify students who are highly capable since few states require pre-service teachers to receive training in gifted education, she said.

The onus then falls to parents to access gifted services for their children, and oftentimes districts do not do enough to make disadvantaged parents more aware of how to do so.

‘You can’t push and advocate for a program you don’t know exists, isn’t in your language, or you have never had experience with yourself,’ Ms. Ford said. ‘Minority parents want their kids identified as gifted and to have access to rigorous programs, but they can’t do that when it’s kept a big secret and mystery.’”

The complete article is here.

September 4th, 2013

A Brief History of Algebra 1 Instruction in Massachusetts

Kenneth Chang’s article titled “Expecting the Best Yields Results in Massachusetts” takes a look at the history of middle school math and science education in Massachusetts.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Some think it was the added money; others note that successful countries operate schools at much lower costs.

Some think high-stakes testing imposed accountability on administrators, teachers and students; others say that it merely added stress and that the proliferation of tests takes away too much time from learning.

Some think the standards gave clarity on what was expected of teachers and students; others say there is little correlation between well-written standards and student performance.

Officials like Dr. Driscoll say all three components were essential.”

The complete article is here.

June 18th, 2013

Socioeconomic Status, Tracking, and Gifted Education

In this Huff Post blog article titled: “Segregated Education in Desegregated Schools: Why We Should Eliminate “Tracking” With “Gifted and Talented” for All” by Alan A. Aja, William A. Darity Jr. and Darrick Hamilton look at the interaction of race, class, tracking, and gifted education. Here’s an excerpt:

“On the surface, examples like that of Southwest Elementary should impel policymakers to address the chronic problem of segregated curricula in our schools. In New York City, for instance, some mayoral candidates and parent organizations have called for improved minority access to the city’s popular G&T programs, which are demographically dominated by white and Asian students. But a bold response isn’t one that simply improves access and opportunity, but one that eliminates tracking altogether and provides “gifted and talented” education for all. In short, schools should de-track toward excellence for all students.

In North Carolina, for instance, such an endeavor was launched in some of the state’s lowest income school districts, and the preliminary evidence is striking. Project Bright Idea, created by state educators in collaboration with experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, sought to test whether raising expectations could enhance student performance regardless of race or socioeconomic background. The program, which operated from 2004-2009 in 11 North Carolina school districts, enrolled 5,000 kindergarteners and first and second graders from disproportionately low-income communities. Meanwhile, teachers underwent intensive training and development to address their dispositions about the abilities of black and impoverished children while providing the schools and teachers with the resources and capacity to deliver a high level of instruction for all children.”

The complete article is here.

April 30th, 2013

The Rich-Poor Student Achievement Gap Has Grown Over the Decades

In this NY Times Opinionator article titled “No Rich Child Left Behind“, Sean F. Reardon, professor of education and sociology at Stanford, explores how wealth has taken over race as the dominating factor in determining students’ success.  The rich-poor gap in student achievement has widened significantly over the last 50 years.  Here’s an excerpt:

“What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.”

The complete article is here.