Washington Examiner | Szafir, Flanders: Is school choice 2.0 coming?

WILL Executive Vice President CJ Szafir and WILL Research Director Dr. Will Flanders write in the Washington Examiner:

An under-told story in K-12 education is how the U.S. struggles to educate its most gifted and talented students. Thirty of the 56 leading economically developed countries have higher percentages of students scoring at the advanced level than the U.S., according a 2012 analysis of the PISA test. This contributes to the U.S. falling behind its global peers, ranking 40th in math and 24th in reading on the 2015 PISA.

Part of the issue is the “one-sized fits all” mentality in education. Mass education presents a difficult balance for teachers, in that students of varying ability levels are in a single classroom. Teachers must pace lesson plans to accommodate the bulk of students in the classroom while gifted students’ growth is stunted as they cannot move at a faster pace. Federal education law, like No Child Left Behind, exacerbated this disparity, as schools have been incentivized to increase the performance of the lowest performers while receiving little benefit for improving the outcomes of high achievers.

Furthermore, in 12 states, there is no specific funding for gifted education services, and this prevents some kids from realizing their full potential. Education scholar and president emeritus at the Fordham Institute Chester Finn explained how too many schools lack available seats for gifted and talented programs. In New York City, for example, only about 23 percent of students who qualified for gifted and talented services were able to take advantage of them in 2013.

Unfortunately, a lack of gifted and talented programs disproportionately hurts minorities and low-income students. Whatever the cause, there is evidence that African American students are less likely to be assigned to gifted services even if they achieve the same test scores as a non-minority student. A similar story holds true for Hispanic students.

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