Civil Rights Tied to Elimination of Excellence Gap

One of the most important civil rights issue of our time is eliminating the excellence gap that keeps highly talented low-income students from achieving at the same level as their middle-income peers, argued panelists at a forum on “Why the Excellence Gap Matters for Civil Rights” hosted by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy.

David Steiner, moderator of the panel and executive director of the institute at the School of Education, said, “American education reform has focused on students reaching minimal levels of proficiency, but has failed to engage and support our country’s promising but underserved students.”

Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said highly talented students were not the emphasis of the No Child Left Behind law. Initiated by President George Bush and in effect from 2002 to 2015, the law’s objective was to bring the lowest-performing students up to a minimal level of proficiently in reading and math.

“While there was progress on raising achievement for the lowest-performing students, the talented ones got left behind,” said Petrilli.

Petrilli praised the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor to No Child Left Behind. Passed by Congress last December, ESSA offers states more flexibility in serving all students, not just the lowest performers. The Fordham Institute is publishing guidelines to help states achieve this goal.

James Moore, professor of Urban Education at Ohio State University and an appointee to the National Science Foundation, said the foundation is working on “broadening participation” in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

“We’re putting national security at risk by not fully maximizing and developing the talent we have,” said Moore. “We’re going to need a skilled workforce if we’re going to compete in the global marketplace.”

Moore noted that the majority of the nation’s pre-K-12 population is now nonwhite. Last year, the Washington Post reported that a majority of U.S. students come from low-income families. Moore urged more aggressive outreach to urban and rural schools, community colleges and schools serving large minority populations to bring talented students into STEM programs.

Jonathan Plucker, the Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development in the School of Education and the Center for Talented Youth, estimated that as many as 60 to 70 percent of the nation’s most talented, low-income students are not reaching their potential.

“We can predict with a high level of accuracy that a talented student who is poor and Hispanic, African-American or Native American will not perform at advanced elves levels,” he said. “Unfortunately, the research is showing that if a student shows potential at the fourth grade, they will not show the same potential by the eighth grade.”