The Bright Students Left Behind

Chester E. Finn Jr. And Brandon L. Wright of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have recently written a preview article in the Wall Street Journal for their forthcoming book, “Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students.” The article inverts the typical narrative of a focus on equity, and asks if we aren’t actually missing out on equity for gifted students by not doing enough to encourage them to achieve more, and that includes disadvantaged gifted students.

Beginning with some international comparisons reminiscent of Marc Tucker, they make their case that other advanced countries around the world find more ways to help advanced students. Moreover, the U.S. has a history of doing that as well, especially going back to the height of the Cold War. One particularly significant point is that the U.S. has found ways of doing both equity and pushing gifted students in the past: The National Association for Gifted Children was founded in 1954, the same year as the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.

They then conclude with some recommendations:

What lessons can the U.S. take from this research on how to raise the academic ceiling, while also lifting the floor? States could screen all their students and offer top scorers extra challenges. They could encourage smart kids to accelerate through school or—more disruptive—allow every child to move through the curriculum at his own pace. Why must every 11-year-old be in fifth grade? Technology eases such individualization, but this change would also require agile teachers and major revisions to academic standards, curricula and tests that now assume every child should progress through one grade a year. Schools would have to ensure that extracurricular and social activities remain more or less based on age. But liberating fast learners to surge forward academically would do them—and society—a world of good.

If and when Congress finishes reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, it should encourage states to track and report not only progress by low achievers, but also academic gains by gifted students, as Ohio already does. Lawmakers should direct the Education Department to gather far better data on strong students than are available today.

For their part, states and school districts need to offer better options for high-ability pupils, such as schools that admit on the basis of academic potential, the way that Stuyvesant High School in New York City does. This model should be extended to middle and elementary school. Gifted poor children, in particular, need that kind of academic support from the start.

If we cannot bring ourselves to push smart kids as far as they can go, we will watch and eventually weep as other countries surpass us in producing tomorrow’s inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and scientists.

To read the full article (subscription only), please visit:


1 thought on “The Bright Students Left Behind

Comments are closed.