Fordham Institute Reviews JKCF Report

Equal Talents, Unequal Opportunities: A Report Card on State Support for Academically Talented Low-Income Students

fordham-2color-cmykBy Michelle Lerner
April 15, 2015

Thomas B. Fordham Institue

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, best known for its scholarship programs for low-income gifted students in high school and college, has entered into the policy realm by beating the drum on an important issue—closing the excellence gap. Gifted-education expert Jonathan Plucker and his coauthors grade states on how they educate an oft-forgotten class of learners: high-performing, low-income students. (We at Fordham often refer to high-achieving students as high flyers.)

The report assesses states on inputs, which include requiring the identification of gifted students, providing services for them, and establishing pro-acceleration policies. Predictably, but still dishearteningly, not one state earned an A for providing needed support for their low-income high-flyers. On average, states only implement three of nine desirable policies, and no state implements more than six. Only two states require gifted education coursework in teacher or administrator training. The best grade, a B-, went to Minnesota, in part because it requires gifted students to be identified and given services.

Helpfully, the report also grades states on outputs. It reports the number of their students who reached “Advanced” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments or scored a three or higher on Advanced Placement exams (not necessarily the best proxies for measuring outcomes for high flyers). Massachusetts leads the pack, with 18 percent of students scoring Advanced on eighth-grade math assessments—but only 6 percent of those qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. This excellence gap needs fixing, and the authors warn that “without more deliberate focus on this issue, our education system will become an unwitting accomplice to the nation’s growing income inequality.”

The report recommends that states make high-performing students highly visible, remove barriers that prevent students from having access to academically challenging coursework, and hold state departments of education accountable for the performance of high flyers.

We ought to ponder why we have no problem ensuring that gifted, low-income athletes get athletic opportunities, but seldom grant their Mathlete counterparts the same opportunities. These straightforward, commonsense recommendations might alleviate that shortcoming.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation plans to update this report periodically; let’s hope states live up to their potential and support their high flyers.