GIFTED BUT NOT MOTIVATED… An op-ed in today’s Washington Post points out one of the more troubling flaws in President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) school reform act. By focusing all incentives on lifting the performance of the least-proficient students, the law has invited schools to ignore the most-proficient students. The result, according to the author Susan Goodkin, an advocate for gifted students in California, is that in recent years “the percentage of California students scoring in the “advanced” math range has declined by as much as half between second and fifth grade.”

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand why this is a frightening trend, presuming it’s real and widespread. How is America going to compete with the rest of the world if our brightest kids–the ones we will be relying on to create new technologies and new industries in a knowledge-based economy–stop progressing?

Sure there are morally compelling reasons to focus on low-performing students. But let’s not kid ourselves–there’s a moral price to be paid for ignoring the potentially high-achievers. As Goodkin points out, “studies establish that up to 20 percent of high school dropouts are gifted.”

Indeed, there is mounting evidence from other states that high-potential but low-income kids are the ones who are really being left behind. As Thomas Toch recently reported in The Washington Monthly “the rate of progress for high-achieving students in low-performing schools in Tennessee has actually declined since the implementation of NCLB.”

Progressive-minded folks ought to be shouting from the rooftops about this problem, especially because there’s a solution to it, as Toch explained in his piece. It’s called “value-added testing.” Read about it here.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.