Washington, DC — A disturbing talent drain in our nation?s schools, squandering the potential of millions of lower-income, high-achieving students each year was exposed today before the U.S. House of Representative?s Education Committee. New research cited at the hearing shows that students who demonstrate strong academic potential despite obstacles that come with low incomes, are currently ignored under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Alternative NCLB legislation being debated in the Education Committee hearing today includes provisions that could, for the first time, hold schools accountable for the academic growth of students performing at advanced levels. The report cited in the testimony–Achievement Trap: How America is Failing 3.4 Million High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families–is a first-of-its-kind look at a population below the median income level that starts school performing at high levels, but loses ground at virtually every level of schooling and suffers a steep plummet in college.

?No Child Left Behind?s successes in demanding greater accountability for reversing poor achievement among low-income students are laudable and should be continued,? testified Joshua S. Wyner, Executive Vice President of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which wrote the report with Civic Enterprises. ?But we are missing an important opportunity to promote high achievement for all students, no matter what their income and background. The needs of high potential and high-achieving students should not be pitted against the educational needs of underachievers.?

Overlooked under the No Child Left Behind law, these 3.4 million extraordinary students are larger than the populations of 21 individual states and largely representative of the race, ethnicity, gender and geography of America as a whole. The report?s authors say the faulty assumption that these students don?t need help to achieve at high levels is causing an enormous, but preventable talent drain in our nation?s schools. As a result, the top 25 percent of students are disproportionately higher-income.

K-12 findings:
Even before they enter first grade, lower-income high achievers are off to a bad start – only 28 percent of students in the top quarter of their first grade class are from lower-income families, while 72 percent come from higher-income families.
From first to fifth grade nearly half of the lower-income students in the top 25 percent of their class in reading fell out of this rank.

In high school, one quarter of the lower-income students who ranked in the top 25 percent of their class in eighth grade math fell out of this top ranking by twelfth grade.
In both cases, upper-income students maintain their places in the top quartile of achievement at significantly higher rates than lower-income students.

Tanner Mathison, a student featured in the report who is now a freshman at Dartmouth College studying medicine, said: ?There are a ton of smart, low-income students in this country who do not have someone to speak for them – no one to get them access to the programs and enrichment they need. In modern society we tend to associate monetary gains with success, and sadly with this paradigm, we often fail to recognize that academic talent can rest within lower-income students.?

College and graduate school findings:
The significance of a college education is underscored by our nation?s growing knowledge economy, which demands more than a high school degree. More than nine out of ten high-achieving high school students attend college, regardless of income level-a great success at a time when only 80 percent of all twelfth graders enter postsecondary education.

Although high-achieving lower-income students are attending college at impressive rates, they are less likely to graduate from college than their higher-income peers (59 percent versus 77 percent). In addition, lower-income, high-achievers are:

  • Less likely to attend the most selective colleges (19 percent versus 29 percent)
  • More likely to attend the least selective colleges (21 percent versus 14 percent)
  • Less likely to graduate when they attend the least selective colleges (56 percent versus 83 percent)
  • Much less likely to receive a graduate degree than high-achieving students from the top income half.

    ?These extraordinary students are found in every corner of America and represent the American dream. They defy the stereotype that poverty precludes high achievement. Notwithstanding their talent, our schools are failing them every step of the way,? said John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises and a co-author of the report.

    (The report can be downloaded at the following address: www.jackkentcookefoundation.org or www.civic ) enterprises.net

    The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is a private, independent foundation established in 2000 by the estate of Jack Kent Cooke to help young people of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education. It focuses in particular on students with financial need. The Foundation?s programs include scholarships to undergraduate, graduate, and high school students, and grants to organizations that serve high-achieving students with financial need.

    Civic Enterprises is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy development firm dedicated to informing discussions on issues of importance to the nation.

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