The Drawback of Advanced Academic Programs

As parents, we simply want the best for our children. The adage that says children need to be challenged is fairly common among both parents and educators. Thus, it is only expected that we want our own children to be attending schools with high scores in standardized tests and challenging learning experiences. An article in the Washington Post five years ago illustrates how great a length a parent will go to simply to place his or her child in an advanced academic program:
"When a contributor to a local parenting listserv recently solicited recommendations for an “educational consultant” to help get her child into Fairfax County’s program for “gifted” students, readers were quick to attack.
“My God!” wrote one parent, “this is wrong!”"
Sadly, that one parent who says, "this is wrong", is more likely an exception. Labeling students and creating tiered schools unfortunately can actually harm basic education and a recent 50-year longitudinal research study shows that there is in fact a huge downside in advanced academic programs.

The study published in the journal Psychological Science shows that advanced academic programs may indeed correlate with students’ educational expectations, educational attainment, income, and occupational prestige. However, this relationship only holds true because these programs are often associated with children from high income families. If the socio-economic side is factored out and schools are simply categorized academically, schools with higher academic achievement are actually negatively correlated with students’ educational expectations, educational attainment, income, and occupational prestige. This is a longitudinal study that looks at 11 and 50 years after the initial assessment in high school. It involves more than 300000 students and more than 1000 high schools representing public, private and parochial institutions across the United States.

The study concludes:
In conclusion, the present study showed that selective schools bring a mix of advantages and disadvantages for students’ academic self-evaluations and individual life paths. Students who attend more socioeconomically advantaged schools benefit from the positive social environment but can be harmed if a high socioeconomic composition is combined with a high achievement composition.
What is more deeply disconcerting is the fact that advanced academic programs often lead to greater inequity in basic education and an Associated Press analysis of the advanced academic program in the county I live in suggests this problem:


Above copied from the Associated Press

Minorities and low income children, who are either gifted or academically advanced, could be really falling on the losing end. The recent study published in Psychological Science suggests that even if enrollment in advanced academic programs is extended to worthy black and Hispanic students, these students are more likely to be harmed and not helped by the program.


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