Talent On The Sidelines, And What Is The Argument Against Universal Screening For Gifted?

Tom Edsall on all the talent we leave on the sideline because of an inequitable education system and how we think about talent. Covers a lot of ground. Big issue in terms of opportunity for individuals and also national competitiveness.

This problem, broadly, it seems to me, is a big one and a solvable one. In fact, despite all the hair shirt wearing performances from people in our sector, we’ve actually made progress over the last few decades on a variety of measures – including achievement for the lowest performing cohorts of students. Plenty of work remains, but the minimizing of progress and compelling examples (looking at you Jack Kent Cooke Fnd as a great one) seems like a bad way to build a politics of efficacy and change. I’m teaching something this summer on the politics of narrative and policy, and the gap between evidence and narrative on some policy questions is wild.

Anyway, Edsall mentions universal screening for gifted programs. This is an interesting and perhaps illustrative issue. There are a lot of issues where it seems like reasonable people can disagree in terms of policy efficacy in addressing equity issues.* Race versus class based admissions preferences, universal versus targeted early education, or math sequences, for instance. You wouldn’t know it from Twitter, but there are well-intentioned people on all sides of all those issues. I’m not sure universal screening fits though? What exactly is the argument against ensuring all kids get a shot at qualifying for advanced learning if that learning is available.** In practice, not screening every kid does sort of reek of opportunity hoarding and a scarcity mindset and seems pretty sure to introduce various kinds of bias and advantages? What’s the case against universal screening?

The Edsall piece also points up the problem of under-matching – students, in particular low-income, Black, and Hispanic students ending up at colleges and universities that are less selective than what they could attend. This is in no small part a problem of the lack of counselors in low-income schools. With race-based affirmative action likely in the crosshairs at the Supreme Court I suspect we’ll hear about over-matching a lot as that debate unfolds. But under-matching seems like a far more pervasive problem for the K-12 sector right now? And another one that at a time when there are hundreds of billions sloshing around we could do something about.

*This probably explains why you have this weird phenomenon right now of people publicly praising Ibram X. Kendi’s racist/anti-racist binary approach but then privately saying, ‘oh yeah, that’s not a very good/too reductionist method for policy analysis.’

**There are a few additional issues here. One is when the “gifted” is meaningless as a label because it doesn’t confer extra services. A second is some evidence that all students would benefit from “gifted” programing. A conflation of gifted services with just advanced course taking confuses things. A third is false precision, it’s unclear the cut points on assessments are all that precise or meaningful and may have more to do with scarcity than substance.