By Michael J. Petrilli
The era of hyperactive education policymaking is about to come to an end.
That might be hard to believe, given this summer’s high-decibel policy disputes, both in Washington and in the states. The implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); debates about a potential large-scale federal school-choice initiative; and deep disagreements about civil rights enforcement continue to captivate—and roil—all of us involved in education policy, in D.C. and around the nation.
But peek around the corner, and the picture looks much different. ESSA plans will be approved, and states will go on their merry ways. The Trump Choice proposal will almost surely be DOA in Congress. The Office for Civil Rights will take a new tack, and that will be that. The Department of Education will go back to being a sleepy little agency. And at the state level? There will be perennial fights over funding, charter expansion, and the teacher pipeline, but what’s the next big issue to captivate lawmakers on the education front? There isn’t one.
None of this is news to the big national foundations, which have played such a critical role in policy reform in recent decades. For that, they mostly deserve our thanks, but more often have enjoyed derision. To be sure, mistakes were made: Not understanding the limitations or unintended consequences of federal leadership on education; a disastrous, ill-timed excursion into teacher evaluation reform; a technocratic impulse that was insufficiently sensitive to parents’ concerns about issues like student privacy; and on and on.
Yet over the course of the past two decades, generous philanthropists helped to build a robust policy infrastructure that rests on high expectations for students. Many of us can remember when academic standards weren’t just low, they were non-existent. Poor kids in rural and urban communities got drivel, while affluent youngsters were expected to pass Advanced Placement exams. All that was considered perfectly natural, and legal. The No Child Left Behind years brought progress, though mostly at the lowest levels of performance.
But now, thanks in part to the support and leadership of national foundations, the “three-legged stool” of standards-based reform—high quality standards, tests, and accountability—is finally sturdy. The Common Core standards remain mostly in place in most of the country—often renamed, sometimes tweaked, but largely the same. Half of the Common Core states still use Smarter Balanced or PARCC assessments, which we at Fordham found to be first-rate, while other states have at least ratcheted up their definition of what it takes for students to be considered “proficient.” And under ESSA, states appear to be making their accountability systems both clearer and fairer: clearer by using A–F grades, five-star ratings, and the like; and fairer by focusing much more heavily on student-level growth, which credits schools for the progress that all kids make while under their tutelage.
It’s an understatement to say that getting to this point has cost a lot of sweat and tears, not to mention treasure. It’s possibly come at a short-term cost to student achievement, as states’ “accountability holidays” meant taking a break from actually holding schools responsible for boosting student outcomes. Perhaps that’s why the National Assessment of Educational Progress has been so flat as of late. But the holiday will finally come to an end, schools will start to get meaningful ratings against high standards, and we’ll see if that puts some gas in the student achievement engine.
Now the philanthropists, I’m hearing, are starting to wonder what comes next. A big part of the answer is not policy, but practice. Not federal and state, but local. Now that we’ve got a set of stable, rigorous standards; challenging, honest assessments; and fair, transparent school ratings, the action is in helping schools help kids make progress. Funders are wise, then, to focus on new initiatives around curriculum development and adoption, student assignments and grading, next-generation professional development, and efforts to integrate technology and personalized learning into the classroom. (Not just the reform stalwarts, like Bill and Melinda Gates and Eli and Edythe Broad, but the newer entrants too, like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Michael Bloomberg, and the Emerson Collective.) Granted, doing any of this at scale, across America’s fragmented education landscape, is super hard. Still, here’s hoping they succeed.
But here’s hoping that they stay the course on the policy fight, as well. Standards, assessments, and accountability systems are not set in stone. They are under relentless attack from traditional education groups and libertarians alike, and can only survive with the vigilance and political support of state-based reform organizations and their allies in the business and civil rights communities.
And playing defense is not all that’s needed. For all the success we’ve seen in building better school-accountability systems, we’ve gotten almost completely rolled when it comes to holding students to meaningful standards. In many, many places, we’re loath to demand that young Americans actually demonstrate competency before moving onto the next grade, the next course, the high school graduation stage, or college. Everyone wants to be Mr. Nice Guy. No one wants to be the Grinch.
So teachers hand out A’s willy-nilly. Principals graduate kids by enrolling them in dubious, click-through, on-line “credit recovery” programs. State lawmakers, such as those in Ohio, run away from graduation exams in favor of competency-free diplomas. And community colleges remove standards for entry into credit-bearing courses. All this will produce is a generation of twenty-year-olds who read and do math at a sixth-grade level, and are unprepared for the real world. Good work, team.
The move to personalized learning will make this issue even more acute. Allowing students to proceed through courses, and even the whole K–12 sequence, at their own pace is a fantastic idea and will be a particular boon to high-achieving, low-income students—kids who have been neglected in the age of standards. But who will decide when a pupil is truly ready for their next step? How will we ensure that personalization doesn’t lead to lower expectations for poor kids? How will we make sure that students actually master the material before zooming ahead? Should we trust the purveyors of personalized learning programs? The same folks who brought us credit recovery initiatives?
These are not second-tier questions. They are at the heart of the education enterprise. And the only answer that stands up to scrutiny, I fear, is standards that are actually enforced. We need external assessments of whether students have demonstrated their competence and are genuinely ready for their next step. That inevitably means more testing—and real consequences linked to student performance.
That’s the sort of policy that other advanced countries take for granted, and that help to explain their superior student performance. But who in America, the land of second and third chances, is ready to stand up for that?
So funders, by all means, bet big on “place-based strategies,” school networks, personalized learning, better tools and training for teachers, and all the rest. But please continue your support and leadership on the standards and accountability front, too. We’ve come too far, and accomplished too much, to allow American K–12 education to revert to false promises, fake gains, and low expectations.
As Robert puts it:
There is a language of power. It is the language of privileged parents, affluent communities, and elite universities. It’s the language of David Brooks. But he’d do well to recognize that you don’t learn that language in those places. They don’t let you in until or unless you demonstrate command of it.
All good, and a dozen years ago, I'd have left it at that. The mission of education reform, I thought, is getting more poor kids and minorities into college, which offers first-generation access to the type of high-paying entry work I enjoyed at age twenty-two. It also brings political and cultural power.
Yet Robert also uses another term, the “language of upward mobility.” Getting that right, teaching more kids that language, is a different task today than it was in 2000.
Allow me to paint you a different picture of power.
As the summer temperatures climb, the outdoors beckon, and I find myself near waterside marinas. From the Cleveland-Toledo Lake Erie coast, to the Pittsburgh-to-Cincinnati Ohio River banks, to the shores of a hundred small lakes dotting the lands between, Ohio is filled with boats. Nearly half a million of them. Beautiful boats. Powerful boats. Luxurious, decked-out boats. Boats with husbands and wives and children and children's friends, skiing and tubing and sunning and relaxing.
It’s a picture of the power of relaxation, fun, and camaraderie. This is not a small form of power. I'd take it most days (if offered) over a “striata baguette” with a Yale law grad. Here, too, we find a powerful form of networking. Those gathered in such marinas not infrequently find connections to new, good-paying contracts. Or they help cement the trade relationships created elsewhere.
The price of admission to these centers of power is not cheap. From helping with a tank of gas for a friend's jet ski, to outright purchase, storage, and maintenance of your new Harris pontoon or Ski Nautique, cash is basically vacuumed from the pockets of anyone approaching marine recreation. More, these boats seem generally backed by a down-the-road, $40,000–$400,000 camper, and are pulled by full-sized, $40,000–$80,000 trucks.
It is to the logos on these trucks that I draw your attention. They rarely say “Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft LLP.” They say things like “Buxton Roofing,” “AM Communications & Installation,” and “Linex Truck Linings.”
The guys who drive these trucks (and they're still mostly guys) make more than good livings. They provide work for other people and incomes for families. They make life easier for end-consumers or for the next business or service along the supply chain. They're part of a continuous network of shops and services that make up most of our economy.
To Brooks, in his harried Acela corridor and TV-personality life, commerce is the restaurants where he meets sources. To me and these guys, it's the trucks that bring the menu ingredients; the service vehicles for the ciabatta oven, latte machine, and dishwasher; the data-cabling and server-farm power meters that supply Brooks's Wi-Fi and cell phone. It's the forge that hammers, presses, and punches the decorative metallic cylinders surrounding his Panera patio waste cans. It's the parts network for the transmission repair shop that keeps people like myself in a vehicle long after the 100,000-mile warranty has expired and the elite have moved on to the latest model car. It's the silo-installation crews who build storage/transfer solutions for the nation's grain, as well as for its polymer granules—as with the trash-bag production facility down the road that serves the refuse-gathering needs of the Carnegie Mellon University campus, among others.
When these guys aren't boating or running four-wheelers or hunting or at their kids' ball games, they're often at sports bars like Buffalo Wild Wings—which, within my adult experience, was an Ohio five-restaurant chain serving places like Columbus, Alliance, Canton, and Kent. Today it has 1,200 locations, adds $2 billion to the national economy, and has spawned a host of facsimile brands.
It will be they and their employees who buy the armfuls of raffle tickets at the athletic booster club steak fry next month. Theirs will be the high-dollar auction items sold at the annual scholarship chili dinner come late November. When funding for the high school baseball team is needed, it will be their names and logos on the 4x8 aluminum signs that hang the length and breadth of the home run fence. They will buy the named bricks, and much more, for the library expansion. The local newspaper keeps running on revenue from their ads. Their kids will actually pay tuition, maybe not at Princeton, but at Ohio State, Mount Union, Pitt, Wooster, and the University of Toledo.
Their wives will often get them to church, and the children will be given a lifelong—if they choose—tribe, a cultural inheritance that goes back more than two or three generations; and, if they're lucky, a formal framework for moral decision-making. In turn, the generous income of these trade-business owners will help sustain the local congregation into the next generation and its remote missions in this one.
In their retirement, if they don't themselves fill the leadership posts and boards of local community organizations, these hard-charging doers will be the go-to sources of support for the leaders who have titles.
So you'll forgive me, David and Robert, if I’m no longer overly concerned with the Cedrick Jennings of the Ivy League world or the imagined cultural shock of a first visit to Whole Foods. Harvard and Yale, once places of idol for me, now border on laughable. When near Pittsburgh, I pop into Trader Joes and buy a cheap can of Spanish-blend coffee, and if anyone looks askance at my threadbare sneakers, so be it. What my life is about now is giving more young teens the vocabulary needed to flourish in the F-150/Silverado/Buffalo-Wild-Wings world. That, friends, is the challenge of our time.
The phrase “Git-R-Done” enjoyed brief national attention a decade ago, but has since remained popular in this neck of the woods.
"Git-R-Done,” to the outside world, implies a simple rusticity that is rapidly evaporating from our workplaces. When you take a new Ford Explorer to a mechanic, his diagnoses may well require a test harness more complex than those employed on an F-15 aircraft in 1990. The farmer's soybean-field tractor now bears any number of sensors and communications links, with the human interface including a seventh-generation quad-core processor and complex user-navigation structure. A small, modern production line? Well...
For too long, where we have designed or measured systemic vocabulary development, it's been too focused on college prep. Changing that focus is the work at hand. Increasingly, terms like actuator, impeller, fatigue life, carbon fiber, and production rate make their way into every corner of the nation. They join words commonly known in earlier generations, words like spanner, vice-grips, auger, tap and die, cotter-key, jig, awl, C-clamp, jumper, and ball-joint.
To their credit, America’s teachers have come to understand how disconnected the traditional curriculum has become for many teens. Project-based learning, design thinking, and even social-emotional learning are the pedagogical results. While these often lack rigorous validation, it behooves us to be a little tolerant when they talk of teaching teens workplace “skills.” Vocabularies of power may be what they really intend.
Microeconomics, business, organization, entrepreneurship, leadership— these subjects also have vocabularies of power that filter down to the sons and daughters of those who run sole-proprietorships. The more a teen can speak these languages, the more we do the yeomen work of preparing young adults.
Ed Jones leads the Hackable High Schools initiative. He is bootstrapping a Statewide Experiment in Customized Teen Learning, an effort to test new, open sourced curricula under Ohio’s Credit Flex law.
The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
Last week, Senator Lamar Alexander fired a shot across the bow of the U.S. Department of Education, suggesting that acting assistant secretary for elementary & secondary education Jason Botel “hasn’t read [The Every Student Succeeds Act] carefully.”
Alexander apparently decided to keep his powder dry a month ago after the Department released the “Feedback That Shook The World,” telling Delaware that its plan to use student performance on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams as a metric for college readiness was out of line, and declaring that the state’s goals for boosting proficiency rates were not “ambitious enough” to merit approval. AEI’s Rick Hess likened the Botel letter to an exercise in Soviet bureaucracy, and Fordham’s Mike Petrilli called it “mind boggling” given Secretary DeVos’s insistence that she’d allow states significant flexibility.
After the initial rumblings around its mid-June letters to Delaware, New Mexico, and Nevada, the Department appeared to back down. It issued a FAQ telling states that they didn’t necessarily have to make every change that Botel had demanded for their plans to be approved. And its next round of state feedback took on a different tone. The first three letters had been framed in terms of items that a state “must address in order for the Secretary to approve” its plan. They contained a total of 168 “musts,” i.e., an average of fifty-six per letter. The next six letters, however, simply requested “clarifying or additional information to ensure” compliance with the ESSA statute. This round averaged less than three “musts” per letter.
Had the Department of Education finally come to its senses? It seemed so. But then came last week’s front-page New York Times article, in which Botel insisted that, “Because the statute does not define the word ‘ambitious,’ the secretary has the responsibility of determining whether a state’s long-term goals are ambitious.” This prompted Senator Alexander to counter Botel in a very public way in Education Week, saying, "Not only did we not authorize the Department of Education to define the word ambition, we specifically prohibited it. That's what the law says, in plain terms."
Who is right? Let’s revert to the statute.
ESSA section 1111(e)2 prohibits the Secretary from “promulgat[ing] a definition of any term used in this part, or otherwise prescribe[ing] any specification for any such term, that is inconsistent with or outside the scope of this part or is in violation of paragraph (1).” Paragraph (e)(1)(B)(iii)(I) prohibits the Secretary from prescribing the “numeric long-term goals or measurements” that states establish.
So it's easy to see why Alexander thinks that Botel hasn't read ESSA “carefully.”
Delaware has refused to back down from its goals, setting up a choice for the Department: Approve a state plan that has rejected federal feedback, or reject a plan based on a dubious pretext. Alexander has previously suggested to states that if the agency were to take the latter course, a state should “take the Department to court.”
But would Delaware win a hypothetical appeal? Likely not. Strictly speaking, Botel didn’t promulgate a definition, nor did he prescribe a numeric goal. Rather, he compared Delaware’s numeric goals to his own unstated preferences and found them lacking. That’s likely more than enough for a court to defer to executive interpretation.
Botel has also told states that they can’t use performance on AP or IB exams as an indicator of school quality, because if not enough students or big enough samples of subgroups take these tests, the results might not fit the requirement of being “comparable” or “statewide” or capable of “differentiating” among schools. Here, again, Botel implicitly defined terms to limit state flexibility while still likely putting the Department on firm footing should they ultimately reject Delaware’s plan.
Still, the fact that the agency could put its foot down doesn’t mean that it should. After all, this certainly wasn’t what Senator Alexander or congressional Republicans had in mind for ESSA. And we have Alexander’s own words to attest to that: “we tried to liberate [states] with this new law, and now we have language coming out from the Department of Education that suggests they better slow down because the department is going to start telling them what to do again, playing ‘Mother may I?’”
The first FAQ and the tone change in feedback letters could have sufficed for the Department to imply that they’d be more lenient than they initially let on. But Botel’s decision to publicly double-down sent a powerful enough mixed signal to provoke Alexander’s high profile censure.
And Alexander is hardly the only one to complain about the agency’s mixed signals. Brian Whiston, the state superintendent of DeVos’ home state of Michigan, has complained that the message he’s received from Botel was “the opposite” of what DeVos had told him. At yesterday’s ESSA hearing, Gail Pletnick, president of The School Superintendents Association, said that “uncertainty created by shifting interpretations of the ESSA law continues to be a concern.”
At this point, DeVos and her staff have three choices: they could reject Delaware’s plan (and court controversy by provoking an inevitable backlash); they could accept Delaware’s plan (and send another mixed signal by appearing ineffectual); or they could issue a statement or guidance telling states exactly how they intend to make their final decisions.
The third course is the best, and the message should make three things clear: The Department will reject a plan if it violates a plain and unambiguous reading of the statute; it will grant states leeway wherever there could be more than one reading; and that when it requests nitpicky details, it’s trying to encourage coherence rather than delineate deal-breakers.
Limited government requires clear fixed rules, flexibility beyond them, and no specter of arbitrary executive interpretation. DeVos doesn’t need to issue hundreds of pages of guidance to set matters straight. But at this point, effective leadership will require more clear and direct communication than we’ve yet seen, and the U.S. Department of Education should resolve lingering confusion by making a clear statement of principles.
Max Eden is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and co-editor of The Every Student Succeeds Act: What it means for schools, systems, and states.
The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
On this week's podcast, special guest Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at AEI, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss House Republicans’ snubbing of the Trump Administration’s school choice proposals. During the Research Minute, David Griffith offers a skeptical look at a University of Arkansas study arguing that “quality control” efforts in school choice programs drive private schools away.
Amber’s Research Minute
Yujie Sude et al., “Supplying choice: An analysis of school participation in voucher programs in DC, Indiana, and Louisiana,” School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, and Education Research Alliance New Orleans, Tulane University (June 2017).
As the term implies, “personalized learning” (PL) tailors educational approaches to an individual student’s needs, strengths, interests, and aspirations. This may sound abstract to many, but a new report paints a clearer picture of personalized learning as used in practice. RAND Corporation analysts examine PL implementation and student outcomes across forty U.S. schools receiving a Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) grant. Most of these schools were less than three years old when RAND began its study in 2012, and thirty-one are charters. Together, the NGLC schools enroll roughly 10,600 students, primarily low income or minority.
“In its ideal form,” RAND analysts write, “PL allows for greater variety in what students are working on at any moment, while still setting ambitious goals for each student’s progress.” Researchers explore the strengths and challenges of PL implementation—how schools are working to meet these ideals—mainly via surveys of educators and students in NGLC schools. As a point of comparison, analysts draw survey data from a national sample of non-NGLC schools. They organize their findings around four marks of PL implementation: the use of learner profiles, personalized learning paths, competency based progression, and flexible learning environments. Here are some of the main findings.
Learner profiles refer to keeping close track of a student’s strengths, needs, and learning progress—and using those data to customize instruction. Surveys indicate that instructors in NGLC schools do receive more “real-time” information on student progress, often through tech-enabled platforms such as online grade-books or portfolios. For example, NGLC teachers say they get updated student data a few times a month, versus about monthly for non-NGLC teachers. They also report more extensive use of those data to personalize instruction, such as altering the pace or content of instruction.
Personalized learning paths encourage individual pupils to choose content or topics that fit their interests. Survey results, however, indicate that students in NGLC schools are not given quite as much flexibility as one might expect. For example, just 36 percent of students attending NGLC schools said that, most of the time, they have “opportunities to choose topics,” versus 27 percent nationally. Teachers report two major challenges to implementation of this practice. One is the large amount of time required to design and support personalized learning plans; second is a perceived tension between student choice around topics and pacing and the need to meet grade-level academic standards.
Competency based progression allows a student to make progress at her own pace and advance toward her goals after demonstrating mastery of a topic. RAND finds that NGLC teachers do report greater use of this practice; for example, 77 percent say they usually allow students to work at a different pace than the rest of the class, versus 59 percent nationally. They also seem more adamant that students understand a topic before moving onto the next. However, teachers in NGLC schools also cite concerns about pupils who don’t progress at an acceptable pace; they also report challenges explaining this PL practice to parents.
Flexible learning environments refer to the adaptive use of staff, physical space, and time to support personalization. Teachers at NGLC schools report more flexibility around learning spaces (e.g., movable furniture and open areas); more co-teaching with other instructors; more flexible scheduling; and more seamless integration of technology. They also report changing student groupings more frequently than their counterparts (29 percent of NGLC teachers altered groups weekly, versus just 4 percent nationally).
Though not without implementation challenges, NGLC schools seem to organize learning in some ways that differ from more conventional schools. But do those differences benefit students? Using NWEA test data and quasi-experimental methods, pupils enrolled in NGLC schools gain about three percentiles in both math and reading—a modest uptick—compared to their statistically similar peers. Those findings represent one-year gains, based on fall 2014 baseline exams and spring 2015 follow-ups. Among a subsample of schools with two years of NWEA data (also fall 2013 and spring 2014), researchers find students make incremental progress throughout both years. Students across the achievement spectrum appear to make comparable gains when attending NGLC schools. Interestingly, analysts also find suggestive evidence that NGLC charters outperform district grantees. Though not conclusive, this finding hints that PL practices might be better suited to the more flexible charter environment.
Personalized learning has generated a fair share of hype. Will it live up to these lofty expectations? It may or may not—and its fate likely hinges on implementation, which includes giving school-level leaders the resources and flexibility needed to implement PL properly. While PL has potential to “disrupt” education in a productive way, buyers must also beware of the potholes. For those wanting a smoother ride, digesting this report is a good place to start.
SOURCE: John F. Pane, et. al., “Informing Progress: Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects,” RAND Corporation (2017).
The Fordham Institute, among others, has long worried that the country’s focus on the “proficiency gap” is leading schools to ignore the “excellence gap”—the divide between white students and students of color at the highest levels of achievement. Now comes good news that this gap can in fact be narrowed. January’s issue of Gifted Child Quarterly features a 2016 longitudinal study by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius et al. that details the outcomes of Project Excite—a STEM enrichment program for “high-potential” black and Latino students in suburban Illinois.
This study addresses the general thrust of previous research that suggests black-white and Latino-white achievement gaps widen faster among high-achieving students, particularly in math and science. The authors indicate that these findings reflect the compounding nature of advantage and disadvantage. Think of compound interest: The further ahead you are, the faster you climb. Knowing this, Project Excite adopts an approach that financial advisors shout from the rooftops: Start early and invest consistently.
Between 2000 and 2013, researchers tracked the performances and outcomes of 361 Project Excite participants. Each cohort consists of third graders from five schools in a suburban Illinois school district. Acceptance into the program is based on math, non-verbal reasoning, reading skills, teacher recommendations, interest in STEM, and academic achievement. The authors make sure to emphasize that “stellar performance on standardized tests” is not the primary focus; students that fall below the seventy-fifth-percentile threshold may be admitted after comprehensive review. This prevents some students that are unlikely to be formally identified as gifted from falling through the cracks. An average of twenty-five students per year embark on a six-year math and science enrichment journey, 77 percent of whom stay the course for the duration.
While attending Project Excite, fourth graders might spend Saturdays wrapping their heads around the scientific method, eighth graders may fight summer attrition with lessons on Newton’s Laws, and parents can workshop ways to foster their child’s potential. From third through eighth grade, the participants attend a minimum of 445 hours of summer and after-school STEM enrichment activities. The program also leverages its connection with Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, exposing participants to some of the most rigorous summer programs in the nation. Additionally, parents are included in a variety of seminars and trainings throughout the course of the program, allowing academic excellence to be a family affair.
The bottom line: Project Excite made headway, accomplishing what it set out to do. The study’s authors compared the performance data collected from the participants to that of their district and state peers. Students who stuck with Project Excite made “larger gains in science, reading, and math.” For example, in third grade, participants and their non-participant counterparts in the same district scored identically on the math portion of a prominent Illinois standardized test. By eighth grade, however, Project Excite students, on average, scored nearly 10 points higher than the district average—and similar results were found for the reading portion of the same assessment.
On the state science test, Project Excite students scored just 0.79 points below white Evanston/Skokie School District students, while black and Latino non-participating students both scored nearly 4.0 points below their white peers, indicating the program’s success in narrowing the science achievement gap.
It was also found that of Project Excite’s first nine cohorts, 76 percent of the students were placed in above-grade-level math classes in ninth grade, approximately on par with the district-wide average, and much higher than non-participating black and Latino students’ rate of 50 percent.
Before claiming a golden ticket, however, the authors acknowledged analytical limitations of their findings. First, there was no true control group because the participants were compared to their local school, district, and state peers—many of whom are interacting with each other in some capacity. Second, test scores from grades before students started Project Excite were not available, so it is difficult to say whether the participants were equal to their “comparable peers” before entering the program. Finally, achievement gaps during high school were not calculated, so the impacts of Project Thrive beyond ninth grade are unknown, aside from college enrollment.
Despite these limitations, Project Excite is clearly heading in the right direction. Other programs hoping to help students of color soar may benefit from gleaning insights on its family involvement, holistic identification, and curriculum techniques.
SOURCE: Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Saiying Steenbergen-Hu, Dana Thomson, and Rhonda Rosen, “Minority Achievement Gaps in STEM: Findings of a Longitudinal Study of Project Excite,” Gifted Child Quarterly (October 2016).