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NAEP and The Concord Review

Elitism is a dirty word in education in this country.  Just why, I don't understand because supporting students with academic ability is as important as supporting students with special needs.  

I thought of this as I read the news about the latest NAEP results ("US 'report card': stagnation in 12th-grade math, reading scores," The Christian Science Monitor, May 8).  The closely watched report showed that high school seniors did no better in reading and math than they did four years ago. The head of the National Assessment Governing Board, which was created by Congress in 1988 to create and measure standards for student performance, warned that too few students are achieving at a level to make the U.S. internationally competitive.

I urge him to look over the index of The Concord Review from 1988 to 2013.  For those readers not familiar with TCR, its founder and publisher is Will Fitzhugh.  He has provided a forum for essays written overwhelmingly by high school students in this country (and to a small extent to those abroad) on a wide variety of subjects. They range from ancient history to modern issues. I've read many of them.  They are not only meticulously researched but gracefully written.

I realize that the students who have been published in TCR constitute only a tiny percentage of high school seniors in this country.  But I maintain that far more students are capable of writing informative and lively papers than we believe. As much as I respect NAEP, I submit that the essays in TCR are better indicators of the highest academic ability than scores on NAEP.  Read some of them to see if you agree.

I don't know if the almost total focus on students below average is the result of anti-elitism or of sheer ignorance.  But TCR serves as compelling evidence that we are squandering talent.  Many of these students will go on to make a name for themselves in their various fields of specialization. They're the ones who can make the U.S. highly competitive in the global economy. Yet we feel extremely uncomfortable supporting them.

We don't have to choose democratization or differentiation.  There is room for both in our schools.  But so far, most of our resources are earmarked to achieve the former. Only in the U.S. does that happen.  Most countries have no compunction about identifying and nurturing their academically gifted students.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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