What Happens to the Top in this Race?
The U.S. Department of Education released the Race to the Top (RttT) application on November 12th. States across the nation are now racing to complete the application. As I digested my very tasty turkey dinner yesterday, I took a few minutes to review the application to see how exactly the RttT grant funds actually relate to top students. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) provided input on the draft of the application last August. NAGC requested that high ability children be included in specific parts of the application. I thought perhaps that the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, would look at the requests seriously. Not so, unfortunately.
NAGC asked for “incentives for school districts to match students with ability appropriate curricula.” Is it in the final application? Nope. How about the request for “an emphasis on closing the achievement gap between highest performing disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers?” Naw, that’s not in the application either. And the proposal “on making high-level STEM curriculum available to some learners at earlier grades than the norm?” Sorry, no. In fact, the only thing that pops out that even remotely supports high ability children is found on page 31 of the application dealing with using data to improve performance:
Make the data from instructional improvement systems (as defined in this notice), together with statewide longitudinal data system data, available and accessible to researchers so that they have detailed information with which to evaluate the effectiveness of instructional materials, strategies, and approaches for educating different types of students (e.g., students with disabilities, English language learners, students whose achievement is well below or above grade level).
Of course, this section is only worth 18 out of 500 points.
So what’s the reason for this snub of top students in Race to the Top? Remember, in his first budget request, Duncan asked for the paltry amount of federal funding for gifted students be eliminated. Could it be that Secretary Duncan’s view is that all high ability children are white and wealthy and therefore don’t need any federal support? The secretary’s quote in the Arizona Central on charter schools (October 25, 2009) seems to provide us a clue:
Duncan: Where good charters make the difference is in traditionally underserved communities, working with disadvantaged students.
So, the best charter schools are not elite academies and not testing kids in; they’re not gifted centers. They’re not even working with average students but with children that come from some really tough situations but show extraordinary results.
Too bad Arne Duncan hasn’t read the Jack Kent Cooke study, which shows how poor, minority high ability students are the most negatively impacted by the race to the bottom mentality in the current No Child Left Behind policy. Some of those “children in really tough situations” are very gifted. Leaving them out of the Race to the Top arena only makes it less likely that they will succeed.