What about the smart kids?

High-achieving students aren’t being held back by the focus on leaving no child behind, concludes a Fordham report. But the best students aren’t improving as quickly as kids at the bottom.

>In 4th grade, for instance, the children in the bottom tier raised their test scores by 16 percentage points, while higher-achieving students gained three points, according to the report’s analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“There’s no Robin Hood effect here,” said the report’s author, education analyst Tom Loveless, who noted that the scores of top students did not decline. Rather, he said, top students are “just puttering along” as students in the lowest tier made large gains.

Teachers have “limited time and resources,” write Fordham’s Finn and Petrilli in No Child Gets Ahead. (See Flypaper for more Fordham comment.)

81 percent of teachers say that “academically struggling” students are likely to get their one-on-one attention today, versus just 5 percent who say that about “advanced students.”

Is this a problem?

Everyone wants equity and excellence, but schools can’t do it all, writes Eduwonk.

It doesn’t mean that we throw different groups of student under the bus, but any accountability system that holds people accountable for everything holds them accountable for nothing. So choices have to be made about emphasis. And considering the yawning achievement gaps, graduation rate gaps, and outcome gaps that separate poor and minority students from other students, that’s where I’d argue the emphasis should be placed.

I agree.

Yes we can have more equity and more excellence, writes Greg Forster.

At struggling schools, students are neglected if they’re doing better than their low-achieving classmates, writes Robert Pondiscio, who taught fifth grade in the South Bronx. He suggests tracking and a rigorous curriculum.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. dangermom says:

    This is one reason that I homeschool. I was a reasonably bright kid with no obvious problems, so I pretty much bobbed through school on my own without much attention from teachers, who naturally put their energy into the struggling kids. But when I did run into trouble, I had no idea how to cope.

    My daughters are both reasonably bright, cheerful, eager-to-please children with no obvious problems, and I’m pretty sure that if they were in public school, their teachers would like them fine, but spend very little time with them. I saw it myself when I worked in a 1st-grade classroom–there’s only so much time, and a teacher has to pay more attention to kid in obvious crisis. So while I agree that that’s appropriate and reasonable, I also want my daughters to benefit from individual attention. (And also I’m a fan of WTM.)

  2. Mrs. Davis says:

    NCLB is not designed to serve the smart, gifted, or achieving student (and I have 3 who have not been served). Read the ETLA, NO child left BEHIND. It’s about minimum standards and serving the needy, not picking winners and helping them succeed. It’s easy and fun to “teach” the motivated, intelligent learner. It’s damn hard work to get the kid who comes in with two strikes and no breakfast to just pay attention, let alone want to learn. But that’s what we need to make up for the illegitimacy and divorce that will burden the next generation.

    And that’s why I support NCLB even though it shortchanges my kids in the short term. They’ll do just fine with all their other advantages. And if they don’t have the albatross of a large cadre in their generation who don’t meet even the barest minimum standards, they’ll be much better off for the rest of their lives. In the ’80s it was said that Japan was not beating us with their top 10% but with their middle 50%. And that’s still true.

    And if public education can’t do NCLB, it has no reason to exist.

  3. I just read the summaries above and not the whole report, but is it possible that the best students have essentially maximized test scores?

    When my son started kindergarten, I did some simple math to find out what was the maximum amount of individual attention he could get. For a class of 20 students I estimated 1 hour of individual attention per week. I suspect that this was a very optimistic estimate even assuming equal time for all. This motivated my wife and I to start after-schooling.

    What I worry about most for the “smart kids” is the narrowing of curriculum to math and language arts. I’m not sure this strategy helps the low scorers, but it sure seems to be the most common approach to dealing with standardized testing.

  4. Mrs. Davis, I’m not sure it is fun to teach smart kids, and by third/fourth grade, after being ignored for years, I wonder how motivated some of them are. To actually teach a smart kid, the teacher has to be ahead of them, they disrupt the pace of the classroom, and are likely to ask hard questions. The administration of my children’s admits that teaching smart kids is too hard, and that is one reason they separate them.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind my children getting significantly less attention than the other students if they had access to curriculum that they could learn. It’s the combination of no attention and nothing to learn that is so awful.

    There was a thread a little bit ago about the smart kids getting thrown under the bus. Ignoring the smart kids isn’t a new phenomenom, the convenient excuse this decade is NCLB.

    Finally, there often seems to be this idea that poor and minority kids aren’t the bright kids. Can you imagine a worse situation to be in than to be a bright poor, minority kid sitting bored out of their mind in a classroom?

  5. Independent George says:

    Isn’t the obvious answer to go back to tracking by ability group? If 5% of the kids are struggling and monopolizing 80% of the instructional time, put them in a smaller class where they get the individual attention they need. If the top 5% are bored out of their skulls waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, put them in an accelerated class where they will learn at their own pace. Everybody wins in this scenario; what’s the problem?

  6. George,

    Here are two summaries of the advantages and challenges associated with tracking:

    http://www.edexcellence.net/detail/news.cfm?news_id=127&pubsubid=778#778

    http://www.principalspartnership.com/tracking.pdf

  7. dangermom says:

    PM said: “What I worry about most for the “smart kids” is the narrowing of curriculum to math and language arts. I’m not sure this strategy helps the low scorers, but it sure seems to be the most common approach to dealing with standardized testing.”

    I certainly agree with this. I’ve seen some very bright kids I know end up in classes with endless basic math and reading drill, with science and history (and even recess) squeezed out. I don’t even think that’s good for the struggling kids in the class.

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    Independent George: The problem with the scenario is it doesn’t work. When and how do you identify those kids who are accelerated and the ones who are decelerated? Over time, despite the validity (or not) of the means of identification, the three groups grow in their disparities. Kids who are labelled early seldom ever recover.

  9. Mark Roulo says:

    If 5% of the kids are struggling and monopolizing 80% of the instructional time, put them in a smaller class where they get the individual attention they need. If the top 5% are bored out of their skulls waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, put them in an accelerated class where they will learn at their own pace. Everybody wins in this scenario; what’s the problem?

    The historical problem with this has been that brown skinned children tend to wind up in the remedial classes and that pale skinned children or children with less round eyes wind up in the accelerated classes.

    This doesn’t look like a win to the parents of the brown skinned children.

    -Mark Roulo

  10. Supposedly, the reason that everyone (even those with no kids) pays for the public school system is that it’s supposed to be in all of our best interests to have well-educated fellow citizens.

    Purely from the standpoint of our collective best interests (and not the individual interests of the students), I wonder if the best bang for the buck is to spend a lot of time with the slow students. Is time you spend getting Slow Fred through remedial reading returning more or less to society than spending the same time getting a smart kid through calculus.

    It’s hard to figure. Some smart kids are self-motivated and really don’t need much instruction, but that’s not all of them. On the other hand, slow Fred is never going to find a cure for some cancer, but Smart Sally just might – if she gets a good enough education.

    Maybe, in light of the fact that we really can’t solve this equation, teachers ought to spend an equal amount of time with all of their students. This generally seemed to be the case when I was in school, back in the dark ages. What’s changed?

  11. Margo/Mom –

    Assuming your point is valid, I’m wondering if it’s such a bad thing that the performance gaps get wider in a tracked situation. Consider two scenarios:

    Scenario 1: Mixed-level environment focusing on the lowest achievers. The learning gap between the top performer in the class and the bottom is two years worth of content. After a year of instruction, the gap is one and a half years. The bottom student picked up 3/4 of a year while the top performing student pick up just 1/4 of a year.

    Scenario 2: Tracking environment. Two year gap between top and bottom, as in the first scenario. The class is broken out into instructional tracks. At the end of the year, the gap is three years. The bottom member of the original cohort picked up a full year of learning while the top member picked up two.

    Which scenario is better for the kids involved? It seems obvious to me that Scenario 2 would mean better outcomes for the individuals involved because each kid learned more than he would have under Scenario 1.

    What’s my point? Focusing on achievement gaps while neglecting content learned on an individual level is folly since it creates a pressure to close the gap by keeping the top performers underachieving.

    Also, if anyone knows of some good research in the area of tracking and actual gains vs. performance gaps, I’d be interested to read it.

  12. Like one of your posters above, this is one reason why we homeschool also. However, what many people don’t bring up — don’t even consider as a solution — is the obvious “fix” for many gifted or advanced students: whole- or subject-level acceleration.

    Unfortunately, though the research supports acceleration as a good option for most gifted kids most of the time (since no solution is perfect for everyone always), prevailing prejudices make this a road rarely taken, regrettably.

    Good thing at the Melk School, we can accelerate on an as-needed basis.

  13. “The historical problem with this has been that brown skinned children tend to wind up in the remedial classes and that pale skinned children or children with less round eyes wind up in the accelerated classes.”

    This doesn’t look like a win to the parents of the brown skinned children.

    The present system of mixed ability/mixed achievement classrooms has the pale, brown, black and green bright kids hanging out waiting to learn something. The present system has N students not learning. If tracking has N-1 students not learning that is at least an improvement.

  14. I’m really encouraged to see this discussion of tracking. I think this is a necessary fix for our public ed system, either short-term for those with currently enrolled students, or long-term as a societal-debate issue.

    I think student-demographic gathering should exclude data on whether they are brown-skinned or round-eyed(?!). It should include test scores. When their test scores go up, they move into a different (i.e., higher-achieving) classroom.

    We are a long way from MLK’s dream.

Trackbacks

  1. […] and potential leaders in our schools.  Joanne Jacobs mentions it in her article, “What About the Smart Kids?” and the NYTimes and the Common Core blog both have touched on this latest Fordham report that […]