Which students are left behind? The brightest
No Child Left Behind has moved the needle for struggling students. But it hasn't done much for those who excel, says a report released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The think tank found while the bottom 10 percent of students have made solid academic gains in recent years, the gains for the top 10 percent have been minimal.
Fordham isn't alone in raising troubling questions about this potential downside to accountability. Teachers worry about it all the time, as this 2006 St. Petersburg Times poll story showed. But the new report is sure to put more of a spotlight on an issue that hasn't gotten enough attention. Both the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act and Florida's accountability system force schools to focus more on the students at the bottom, who are disproportionately poor and minority. But is there a tradeoff?
The wonks boil it down to this: Can schools be excellent and equitable at the same time?
"No Child Left Behind appears to be making progress toward its stated goal: narrowing achievement gaps from the bottom up. Let us celebrate the gains of our lowest achieving students," Fordham President Chester E. Finn Jr. said in a press release. "But in a time of fierce international competition, can we afford to let the strongest languish?"
Advocates for gifted children agree. The effect of No Child on gifted programs has made national headlines for years.
The National Association for Gifted Children sent out a statement to coincide with the Fordham report's release: "I hope this study serves as a wake-up call if we as a nation are truly committed to leaving no child behind and investing in students from all ability levels to maximize their potential," said Joyce Van Tassel-Baska, the group's past president. "Nothing less than our future is stake."
- Ron Matus, state education reporter