Per today’s latest Hess – Petrilli broadside against achievement gap efforts, three quick points. First, it’s as though these guys have never heard of enrichment programs, early childhood education, etc…They write that expecting more diverse participation in gifted programs, “…ignores the unseemly reality that advantaged children are statistically more likely to be ready to succeed in tough classes than are low-income children raised in households with fewer books and more television.” Sure, but it’s not immutable and there are things policymakers can do to ameliorate it. The same issue applies to their assertion that improving diversity in advanced classes axiomatically means diluting excellence. Want an example of an institution that has figured this out pretty well? The officer corps of the United States military.
Second, this part is just slippery. They write that, “The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association released a study in September that tracked more than 100,000 high-achieving pupils over time and found that more than one-third lost steam as they progressed through school.” How much did they fall? And how do we know that’s not just the way the data are going to look? Hint: The answers are – not all that much and we don’t. I happen to think there are trade-offs in all this but the case is largely circumstantial or based on possible counterfactuals that it’s hard to examine with today’s data.
Third, this whole debate unfolds with scant attention to what happens to gifted kids who are poor and minority. Here’s a smart paper from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation about that issue (pdf). Petrilli and Hess clearly think that our future rest on gifted children. But what if a lot of gifted kids are now lost among all the students trapped in persistently lousy schools or overlooked and undereducated in better schools? In other words, there is a compelling case that many of our potential future leaders are among those falling through the cracks.
Finally, I honestly don’t get this emerging hobby horse among the conservative think tank set. How anyone can look around this country – even look around Washington in case you don’t get out much – and conclude our problem is that we’re spending too much attention and/or resources on poor people or minorities escapes me. Longer look at this manufactured crisis from TIME via this link.