Chester E. Finn, Jr., Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Hoover Institution education policy guru, and his co-author, Brandon L. Wright, have a new book out next month titled Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students.
Among several challenges faced in educating our high-ability students, Finn and Wright bring up the issue of undermatching, a term which when used in education, refers to the opportunity gap that arises when very competent and bright students, frequently from low income backgrounds, do not attend equally competitive colleges. In many cases, high ability students from less affluent homes may be attending K-12 schools with many students who are struggling academically. If resources are tight, and teachers are occupied with those students who are struggling greatly to merely reach proficiency, high ability students may get even less of the attention and the advocacy they need to excel. This, coupled with the fact that many of these students may come from less affluent homes, where parents and guardians may rely even more on the schools to push their children to excel academically, translates into these students getting less than what they should be getting.
Adding to this is counselors who may have, on average, 300 kids to counsel; families who may think an elite, selective college is not attainable; navigating the sometimes Kafkaesque financial aid system; and students with potential who are not identified or encouraged to take Honors or Advanced Placement courses.
We cannot afford, as a nation, for our best and brightest not to be identified early, exposed to a college- going culture, nurtured and encouraged to excel academically, and invested in enough to make sure that they apply to the schools that are a match for their abilities.