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Sol Stern
The Excellence Gap « Back to Story

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Arkansas Demozette just reprinted your work. On behalf of all the underclass families struggling to compensate for the lack of challenge and resource exposure for their accelerated learners who are falling back to average or dropping out, thank you for noticing! AMEN!
Hal: You have a cynical mind!
One thing I don't see mentioned here is a simple consequence of mathematical reasoning: If you lower the scores of the gifted kids (by neglect of course, not by specific intent), then the median & mean drop and the below average kids have improved in a relative way. There's no absolute improvement but the spread of the distribution is less pronounced. Which prospect all relentless egalitarians would evidently prefer to seeing those darned "haves" continue to outperform the deserving "have nots".
P.S. I know I made some typos. Don't bother.
The Federal Government just needs to get its power-hungry and racial-grievance-mongering paws out of the education system altogether. The Department of Education has cost many billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it except the continued indoctrination of children into the liberal mindset of strong, centralized government as a savior, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement to anything their hearts desires without any effort or merit on their part.

The kids in public schools now spend more time building up the sainthood of Martin Luther King than doing math equations or learning to read. Nor do they spend time learning about actual history like, you know, the Constitution, the Civil War, the World Wars, the Cold War, and anything that puts other bits of history, like Martin Luther King, into context, so they know what it even means.

Socialists have made the public school system their madrassa, where angels and devils are defined, depending on which side of the redistributionist spectrum they fall, and the sturggles of a century ago are used as a chisel, to permanently sculpt the culture into a divided, anger-driven whirlwind.

If we want the schools to actually TEACH people, we would get the government to stop being so invasive and involved. Teach kids how to read; don't tell them WHAT to read. Teach them how to think logically, how to do puzzles, how to figuring things out. Don't use this invaluable time in their lives to give damaging lessons in "tolerance" and "self-esteem."

"Tolerance" is a code-word for immunity from responsibility and consequences. And "self-esteem" turns kids into narcissistic sociopaths. And neither one will lead a child to a happy, fulfilling life.

One of Mr Stern's suggested remedies can be found at

I grew up in a tough neighborhoods in NYC (Washington Heights) and went to public schools. I was fortunate that back in the 70's and 80's NYC public schools still had the concept of a "best class" where gifted students could be challenged and take on more advanced subjects than the rest of the students. I managed to make it through elementary and junior high school with a good education. I actually skipped 8th grade and made it into the Bronx High School of Science, one of the 3 premier academic public schools in NYC. The sad thing is a talented student today doesn't have the same opportunity to succeed as I did. Is it really too much to ask to have a single class of 20 - 30 talented students per school where kids can be taught by the best teachers and be academically challenged? Do school administrators really believe mixing these same students among 5 or 10 classrooms will really bring up the skills of the average student? In NYC there seems to be a strong desire to bring down gifted programs in the name of equality and equal access. This is extremely short sighted from a long term societal perspective.
The irony of Sol Stern's "The Excellence Gap" is that the force of his reasoning and writing is not itself the outcome of his blinkered focus on the international competitive merits of science and engineering but rather of his literate skills and philosophical perspective. Excellence yes, but not the narrowly pragmatic variety which Stern misguidedly applauds.
Sorry, Sol. Your premise is totally off-base. Please allow me a little editing: "Virtually [no] education 'reformers' [care] that America’s ability to remain an economic superpower depends to a significant degree on the number and quality of engineers, scientists, and mathematicians graduating from our colleges and universities."
The goal of the education "reform" movement is to dismantle public education and privatize schools so that taxpayer money can be diverted to private pockets. Whether our best students or most at-risk students get an appropriate education is of no concern to the "reformers."
Cannot agree more!

NCLB let the country spend 80% of the money and resources to get 20% of the educational gain for the US population, while left the brightest youngsters of the country behind.

Helping the worst performers should NOT cost the future of the highest performers. Otherwise there is little future for the United States for economic success.

The gifted education is being cutting back from my child's schools due to state funding issues and NCLB. So my child with IQ above 99.9th percentile only gets 1 hour of pull out time a week. What good can that do to her? She skipped a grade and is still bored to tears at school. A lot of times I just wish she is born in China, so that she can get the attention she needs to grow and reach her full potential...

China and other Asian countries are using test to determine whether a student can get into an elite school. Even if the parents will fork out ton's of money, without passing the admission criteria -- test based only, a student will not be admitted to an elite school. Schools in China will do whatever to help their high achievers, and they even dedicate their best teachers to help the high achievers for competitions, which is spending 20% of the money and resources and get 80% of the gains for the advancement of the country's future in STEM.

We should have No Gifted Child Left Behind policy, which would help the brightest reach their potentials. This way our brightest kids will help bring a bright future for our country.
This essay wonderfully complemented Frederick Hess's "Our Achievement-Gap Mania" in the current issue of National Affairs. This reminds me of a Nietzsche notion: that the primary job of society's educators is to produce as many geniuses as reasonably possible - that that is how a society will ultimately be judged by history. Although certainly not omnipotent, I think the philosopher had a point here...and in this respect, we are miserably failing.
I'm a recent high school graduate and a just beginning college freshman, and I can't help but thinking that this is completely true. Throughout my early schooling (at least up till high school),I always felt rather left-out of the teachers as they rarely paid attention to me. I never received the student of the week tributes even when I was scoring consistent 4s (4 being advanced and 1 being far below), while those around me who finally raised their grade from a 1 to a 2 or a 2 to a 3 would get these class praises. As a kid, I didn't understand this; I only felt that it was completely unfair. But as I got older and began to understand the reasoning behind the teachers' thinking, I started to rather detest Bush, his aides, and everyone's complete blindness to this significant problem. But what I frustrated me the most was that the kids who benefited the most from this Act was the ones who completely disregards the value of education. These kids had to be forced to learn algebra with threats of detention when children like me were learning calculus because we thought it was interesting. I have to admit, if there wasn't an IB program for me to attend, and if my mother wasn't so keen for good grades, I probably would have been bored out of my mind in regular classes. I realize most others wouldn't have been as lucky as me and it pains me to realize that the next great innovator or the next great scientific discovery (perhaps even the cure for AIDS or cancer), might not happen with my generation. I don't trust the government much and rather think they're stupid of the highest degree, and I'm sure that this disillusionment that I feel is true for various others throughout the country.
While the thought behind the No Child Left Behind Act is quite noble in theory, in all practicality, the Act completely disregards the future. The Act was completely short-sighted with no attention paid to the opportunity cost, it seems as if the Act dumbed down those few who could think and analyze while playing baby with those who can't or won't. The NCLB Act effectively undermined the United State's global leadership quality for the next decade or two at the very least; most who were lucky enough like me are far too disillusioned to actually consider government jobs; at the first opportunity, I would rather live in Europe even with the cultural shocks and differences.
Mr. Stern's wrong about the reason for NCLB.

If the "soft bigotry of low expectations" were the reason for the passage on NCLB it would've been passed not long after the public education system was instituted.

High expectations are a bother making demands on the professionals from the classroom right up to the superintendent of schools. Who needs 'em? Parents want them but they're blessedly precluded from acting on their desires. To the extent that parents can't be put off there's been the long-standing institution of selective public schools - magnet schools. Did anyone think I was referring to charters?

Magnet schools served to mollify politically-powerful parents as well as providing a convenient way to put off parents. If junior doesn't pass the test for entry well there you are. Sorry kid, it's back to Hamburger High for you because you just don't measure up. That lets the professionals back it Mediocrity Middle school off the hook as well. If the kids were smart they'd go to the magnet school. Since they're not going to the magnet school they can't be that smart and no one can blame the professionals for not educating them beyond the dismal levels too which they are educated. You can only do so much with the poor quality of students God knows.

The real reason for NCLB was a series of audits of the public education system which showed widespread disregard for the terms under ESEA - Title I and Title VI money - was required to be spent. It was supposed to be for poor kids and kids with emotional medical problems but school district were using the money for just about everything but the purposes for which it was disbursed. Pools and computer labs, even operating funds, were the uses to which ESEA money was put. In many cases school districts had to be forced by courts to live up to their legal obligations so used had they become to treating ESEA money as part of their general budget.

The lesson is that if you want real bipartisanship you have to anger politicians on both sides of the isle. When you make Republic and Democratic representatives look like schmucks you shouldn't be surprised when they find common cause.

So the "Excellence Gap" isn't a result of NCLB. The "excellence gap" has a long, ugly history and, in the grand tradition of making lemonade out of lemons, the sterling supporters of the public education status quo see an opportunity to hang this long-existing albatross around the neck of the recent trend to impose some degree of accountability on the public education system. I'd say the legislation issuing from quite a few states in the aftermath of the 2010 elections proves that to be a faint hope.
Love your ideas. I also can't help but wonder what could happen if we allow students to advance in school by ability and not age. Students need not matriculate or move up to another grade based on their birth date, which does not neatly correspond to ability or competence.
How does one return to the comment page to see new comments?
I know someone with a Ph.D. in math who was fired from a Georgia college because his grading standards were too high. I also read where foreign engineers were hired to replace American engineers because of their willingness to accept lower salaries. No wonder students avoid working for degrees that will not provide much more than that of an office manager.
Well said! Often a teachable moment for a child is when they are curious about something. It is often helpful to have on hand a variety of resources. Parents may have these available in the home via the internet. Many free resources are listed on giftedinwisconsin.
Note to parents: don't look to the schools or to the teachers to challenge your children and prepare them for the careers of the 21st Century. Your children are your responsibility. Read to them, take them to the library, to the museum, talk to them about history, about economics, about politics - at a level that they understand. Forget about DisneyLand and DisneyWorld. Leave those places for the window-lickers and their offspring. Take them to Washington, D.C. Take them to Philadelphia. Show them how our country got started. Turn off the mind-numbing garbage that your children are watching on television. Your children are not going to get any of this from the chair-warmers and time-servers that populate our public schools masquerading as teachers and administrators.
If you don't do it, then no one else will.
Good article. Gifted children are the losers in this egalitarian mandate. Of course there are States' Rights advocates who (rightfully) point some blame at the federal legislation; yet there are also plenty of local (as in big-city school district) mandates along the same lines. All stemming from the politically enticing, changeless fantasy that The Public Schools will make Below Average kids into Above Average graduates. Which does not compute, no matter what your pedagogical methods, no matter how expensive the physical infrastructure of the schools. At best you can boost the below average kids and hold back the gifted kids. Which is exactly what happens, that's how we move towards parity. As for the top-paid architects (including politicians) responsible for this? Their kids frequently attend private schools. Duh. On up to Yale and such-like places, where they can stand on their soapboxes and denounce the "failure" of public schools...
“I majored in Peace Studies with a minor in Dance, I’ve got $80k in student debt, and evil corporations won’t give me a job with a six-figure salary!” I will link to this from my Old Jarhead blog.

Robert A. Hall
Author: The Coming Collapse of the American Republic
(All royalties go to a charity to help wounded veterans)
For a free PDF of my book, write tartanmarine(at)
Sorry Sol, but the 40+ year canard of shortages of STEM grads needs to be exposed. I went to Bronx Science, got a BS in math, and an MA in public policy. I ALWAYS had a hard time finding a job, and endured several extended periods of unemployment in my so-called career. I'm glad to be retired, and if I had to do it over, I would have gone to Clinton or Roosevelt and skipped college completely.
Statistics only provide gloomy picture. No Act, or system, can stop anybody's growth. The author's concern, I'm afraid, is misplaced.
I should add, my public schools in North Carolina in the 1960s were NON-union. And Southerners didn't have much use for the "bien-pensants," anyway. We put a much higher premium on common sense.

But here in New York City, Catholic schools are closing for lack of customers -- why?
We should also return to administering academic achievement tests and "tracking" the students, as we did in North Carolina in my youth. In the sixth grade, high-scoring students attended the Academically Talented Summer Program, a half-day of school with electives of the student's choosing; from the seventh grade on, students were grouped into classes of similar ability.

I remember vividly the huge sigh of relief we smart kids heaved when we were finally free to stretch out and run, instead of slowing our steps to the pace of the others. And the slower kids were in classes where the teachers could adjust their teaching pace and the course difficulty to them as well: believe me, they never complained!
This is because the schools have been dumbed down to accommodate the lowest performing while sacrificing the highest performing. Thanks again to the social justice crowd for forcing this agenda down our throats.
Without strong support from, so called, American business for domestic American engineers and scientists the article is just another useless teacher union bashing diatribe. Ironically many foreigners come to America for engineering and science training, taking university spots from American student prospects. The tax breaks, grants and scholarships Congress supplies elite institutions such as Yale, MIT, Harvard and Stanford make this possible. All the foreigners middle-class Americans taxes pay to train go home and take with them hundreds, possibly thousands, of outsourced multinational engineering or science jobs. It makes no sense to become an American scientist or engineer knowing the Wall Street bean counters will ensure you can't compete against the coming tidal wave of highly skilled, low-wage competition in Asia. If and when multinationals, or Wall Street, specifically need American engineers and scientists they will lobby Congress for them and they will get them.
Yes, the nation's smartest kids were neglected by school system. Young kids eventually lose their wings, and edges to fly higher.

School is not a place to enrich them, but, a waste of time for them to slow down to wait for other kids.
This isn't entirely about race or Affirmative Action. Gifted children have always been thrown under the bus, even minority ones. Even back in the 60s and 70s, they were ignored if they behaved, and doped up on hyper drugs if they didn't. In worst cases, teachers not only allowed but even encouraged bullying by slower children, especially if a child was unwise enough to display more knowledge than an ill-informed teacher.
By the 70s, in Philly where I grew up, the local Catholic High School not only had a significant number of Protestant students but even a few Jewish ones. In the 80s, the number of A.M.E. and African Baptist parents who sent their kids to Parochial school was absolutely staggering. It's been pointed out that not all parents can afford this, but that makes little difference: in some states, the Educational System requires that even parochial school teachers have the same certification as public school teachers, which means they can weed out all the really good teachers and fill the schools with mediocrities who will clone more mediocrities like themselves.
This is not new. Read _Screwtape Proposes a Toast_.
A fantacist coild not make up the factsmin this article. Good job Sol Stern.
@Deb, who said "the best children will probably be top in any case" (or words to that effect, I believe)--yes, but it matters terribly what those students do with their time (in school, and out). The more rigor students have in their courses, and the more they are pushed by their parents and teachers to succeed, the better. It's only too easy to think you're brilliant when it's so easy to do well, in today's schools; better to have a teacher who induces the talented and willing ones to do something more like the curriculum we did forty years ago, when there was still sometimes, in some subjects, a bit of a challenge.
In order to reward and thus develop academic excellence in _all_ children as well as the corollary social and economic benefits of widespread intellectual expertise, rather than today's counterproductive tax funded rewards to schools maintaining the highest percentage of minority ignorance, the American public will need to get the anti-white bigots out of the U.S. government. That would be today's presidents, senators, ect. who, because they are too stupid to tell the difference between a stereotype and a child, think of all white kids as "historical oppressors" deserving of the penalties inherent in today's government mandated, tax funded,black favoritism.
There is a good reason for students not investing their time and money in highly specialized scientific fields. Job market is getting tougher and tougher for fresh graduates in science, and those with narrow specialization find themselves in a trap created by global corporate environment. Due to corporate sponsored immigration of scientists from Asia, whose investments in education are incomparably lower, and often even sponsored by the corporation itself, as it is becoming increasingly common in the pharmaceutical industry, American and to a large degree EU graduates, too, find themselves in situation when they have to repay college debts, think about starting a family, and compete on the same market with people whose entry conditions are completely different. My personal experience from the UK is that home grown graduates were working as apprentices or temporary agency contractors, whilst the corporation preferred to imported fresh graduates for permanent positions. In a job market like that, it makes little sense to invest into education which is unlikely to pay off. Corporate world is global and its rules are not favorable for graduates from expensive Western universities who are free to walk away whenever they feel like it. In essence, if you want to have scientists, you have to pay them for their work after they get their degrees.

The NCLB policy can be useful for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but for gifted and highly intelligent kids, life in a classroom full of slow thinking buddies is really boring. They deserve their share to be able to reach their full potential.
I understand that, here in New Jersey, inner city schooling is all about teaching to the test. How is it possible that so-called educators could have failed to consider higher achieving students?

As for higher achieving students, in my town, I of course but had no choice (and I know it isn't politically correct to even mention this) but to notice that, despite the school being almost one third minority, including 25% African American, the honors courses were populated almost exclusively by white and Asian students. I truly do not understand why that is. Among these was one student whose family was from India, who grounded her for getting an A minus. I'm not sure if that's admirable, but she did end up at Princeton.

All this aside, if you want students to do well then study those who do well. From what I understand (is this true) on average, the highest achieving students are those with two parents at home. Likewise, on average, the lower achieving students are those with a single parent. If this is true, then, as uncomfortable as this may be, shouldn't government adopt policies that encourage two parents at home for children instead of wasting billions and billions on education programs that never work? Where all the citizen taxpayer gets are demands for more money for more or different programs, none of which ever seem to make one bit of difference, especially in the inner cities? If the statistics show that students do much better if both parents are at home, then shouldn't someone point out that having two parents at home is a big deal?

I say this as someone who remembers the "new math" back in the 60's which was supposed to revolutionize math teaching. I also recall it being, among other things, learning to do math in base 7, which has since been abandoned. So what was all that money spent for anyway? That and all those other programs - from SRA to QUEST - 50 years of teaching programs - lots of money spent and not much to show for it.

Sorry for the frustration but at this point I have little trust or tolerance for "educators" - or unions - when they come around - watch your wallet.

And can someone at least tell me if having two parents at home makes a difference and if so why this never gets into the conversation about education!
Is not the real problem the loss of an underlying moral ground? The public school system was the basically a product of Calvinistic Protestantism. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church recognized this and set about establishing the successful parochial schools and high schools. It was not unusual for Harvard graduates to return to their home towns to teach in the high schools.
The lowering of standards - educational and moral -
has taken the steam of public education. And the effort to replace parents with teachers has led to the miserable state we see to day.
A good private school in this area will cost about $20,000.00 a year, we did look into this. My grandson is actually very fortunate to be in the school he is in, he got his place through a lottery. The school is advertised as a "center of excellence" in science and engineering and has had huge investment both in facilities and staff to achieve that excellence. Unfortunately it was deliberately located in the "bad" part of town in some crazy attempt at social engineering. Prostitution and drug dealing are clearly visible from the schools front gate. There is the promise of "streaming" the more able children into a distinct group but the staff will never openly admit that. In any sensible society the girl I mentioned would be on track to be a PhD by age 20, but she is white working class so is at the back of the line for consideration. Incidentally we are paying huge property taxes to support all this stuff.
You will never be able to make a one-size fits all, monopoly system (public schools) to appropriately serve all of its customers (students/families). I am bewildered at how Americans despise monopolies in general principle, but strongly support the failed public monopoly that is public education. More choice, more competition, and less public union control are the keys to solving the decades long decline in American educational performance.

You can pass as many reforms as you wish. The current system will defeat them all. It simply can't be saved in its current form. Only systems with open ended flexibility like unrestricted charter schools or universal voucher programs will be able to provide the wide range of educational curriculum necessary to meet the needs of each particular student.

Excellent observation - especially in this day of egalitarian do-gooders. Please keep it at the forefront of our discussions of education.
@NP - Unfortunately it has been shown that financial incentives don't help most low achieving children improve. There was a recent documentary showing this. They simply don't have the self discipline and motivation to stay focused and do the work. Playing video games is so much easier. Especially with the lack of parental supervision. And the best children are probably going to be top even without the money.
@ Roger - both your grandchild and the other student should be pulled from that public school and sent, immediately, to private schools. If finances are a problem - find them scholarships. And write your own check for the Grandchild. It's the most important thing you can do for her. Vote with your feet and your money.
the culprit remains AFFIRMATIVE ACTION . were all afraid to say it for fear of being called racist .. it was instituted by richard nixon as i recall .. and yes of course the unqualified teachers today along with some favoritism of lower echolon students engaged in sports agendas,music of sorts and marketing rather than promoting higher quality mathamatics & science .
If any nation were to arrive at an arrangement wherein the people were educated to their best advantage (and therefore to the best advantage of the nation), one would see in it that opportunity for learning is vast, and appetite for learning common. Moreover, the citizen’s urge to learn would not be engendered only by hope of social, financial, or political advancement, but by hope of joy and humane understanding. Such an outcome cannot be achieved by government power.
Americans have generally failed to grasp the value of learning for, seemingly, its own sake. And now, by making education a matter of “social justice” and empowering the government to choose our priorities in learning, we have surrendered an essential freedom. Whether by Republicans or Democrats, American government today assumes the citizenry to be incompetent, if not bestial, and incapable of choosing rightly in any category. This view is likely supported by the majority of Americans. Sol Stern’s hope of finding political solutions to this fundamental cultural ill is naïve, perhaps misguided.
Why should we not get the government all together out of the business of educating young Americans? Inevitably, government schools turn from education to indoctrination of their pupils in the beliefs of the political majority. Let people choose that if they will, but let others, without penalty, choose differently. Let the success of some schools and the failure of others influence the choices of the people. Let those who wish their children to be, above all else, politically correct, do to their children what they will.
Another great article on the status of our educational system.
Steve Jurvetson promoted a voucher system initiative in CA back around 2000. Teachers' Union attacks "...who will be accountable yada yada..." caused it to lose at the polls.

Until voters recognize that the so-called "public education" is wholly a teachers' full employment program, the Catholic and other private schools will deliver far superior education, and their alums will bring the drive and initiative to benefit most from college.

Nothing is ideal, anywhere. But in a permissive society infested with PC creeps and their corrosive mendacity, each of us has a responsibility for our own children and descendents. The sorry example others set their children's problem.

Vouchers will go a long way, IMO. Until then, groups like the KHAN ACADEMY provide free educational offerings for those with the sense of purpose to pursue it.

Final thought on "...nurture academic excellence for the good of our democracy.". China is a democracy, so is Cuba. The U.S. is a REPUBLIC. Dig?
Identify, early on, those students that have the
potentials to succeed in math and science. Set up schools that concentrate on those disciplines only and establish a selection process based on stringent guidelines. Recruit the best teachers and pay them well.
Contrary to Stein... The smartest people have long understood the best schools are private and quietly vote with their feet and money to support private schools like Groton Exeter, St Paul's etc... With standards higher and academics superior to the so called elite public high schools in NYC... One would urge journals like City Journal to begin The thinking to recognize that so called public education should simply be closed down
This is an excllent article. Sol Stern has offered such clear and common sense solutions to a truly pressing problem
Our education system is not shortchanging just our best students. It is also shortchanging those who have the potential to be close to the best. And this has been going on since before NCLB.

When my kids were in elementary school in the 1990s, awards were given to all but those who achieved academically. There was an award for "best attendance" and another for "best in art/drama". But none for "best in math/science" This sends a clear message to the kids - excellence in academics is not valued and it does not matter.

Companies with deep pockets and the need for technologically savvy workers - the likes of Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon - should create large-scale scholarship programs for middle and high school students. A $100 gift card to the top 10-15% of achievers in math/science in each class would go a long way towards making the kids who are the best or who have the potential to be the best become motivated students, and this would instill a work ethic and good study habits.

Unfortunately, most corporations no longer feel allegiance to the country. They would rather import STEM grads from abroad (via H-1B and other visas) and lobby Congress to make more cheap labor available, than do the right thing by their own fellow citizens.

Where there is a will, there is a way. The question is: do we have the will?
NCLB was and is a bad idea.
Any such program as you suggest would be objected to on racial grounds. The children selected for the advanced study courses would be overwhelmingly white, jewish or asian. In my own grandson's kindergarten class; his teacher has told us he should be moved to grade 2, there is a white girl in the class whose IQ has been estimated at 150+ who also should be moved up. The reason for not moving them? They help maintaining order in the classroom, which is 30% NAM. This is the reality of US public education.