Category Archives: Education Policy

Talent on the Sidelines: the Excellence Gap with Dr. Jonathan Plucker

Excellence-Gap-10-18-13Talent on the Sidelines: the Excellence Gap with Dr. Jonathan Plucker

Show Notes
Student Success Podcast No. 5, Oct 24, 2013

** Please also listen to the follow-up interview with Prof. Plucker, March 1, 2014:  Excellence Gaps and the national imperative for equity AND excellence **

Today’s Guest:  Prof. Jonathan Plucker, University of Connecticut

Prof. Jonathan Plucker discusses the just released study “Talent on the Sidelines:  Excellence Gaps and America’s Persistent Talent Underclass.” Prof Plucker shares his amazing insight on the need for educators and policy to address both equity and achievement for our students, as today’s focus on equity has left us with a tremendous “Excellence Gap” between socioeconomic and racial groups, and has left behind untapped talent among our lower performing groups.

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Guest Biography: Dr. Plucker received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from The University of Connecticut in 1991, where he also received a master’s degree in educational psychology in 1992. After briefly serving as an elementary school teacher, he attended the University of Virginia, where he received his doctorate in educational psychology in 1995. After briefly teaching for two years at the University of Maine, he arrived at Indiana University in 1997 as a visiting assistant professor. He become a tenure-track assistant professor in 1998, with promotion to associate professor in 2001 and full professor in 2006.

Dr. Plucker has received a number of honors for his work. For his creativity work, he has received the Daniel E. Berlyne Award for outstanding research by a junior scholar (2001) and the Rudolf Arnheim Award for outstanding research by a senior scholar (2012) from Division 10 of the American Psychological Association, and the 2007 E. Paul Torrance Award for creativity research from the National Association of Gifted Children. For his gifted education research, he has received the NAGC Early Scholar Award (1998) and two awards from the Mensa Education & Research Foundation Award for Excellence in Research (1997 & 2000). For his education policy work, he was ranked in 2011 as one of the Top 100 most influential academics working in education policy.

Dr. Plucker is a fellow of the American Psychological Association (2009) and was named a Fellow of the American Associate for the Advancement of Science in 2011 “for distinguished contributions to the science of creativity and the creation of research-supported education policy.”

Topics Discussed

  • Achievement gaps: but minimum competency gaps
  • Minimal achievement is not helping — still losing talent
  • 2010 Report the product of these questions: is anyone really considering wasted potential?
  • 3 years work for this new report
  • Early years demonstrated excellence, but by 8th grade loses all advances
  • “Excellence gap” = measurement of differences in high level performance between
    across minority groups: 2% achieve excellences… unfathomable… yet, this was an increase over previous measurements
  • Means huge pool of wasted talent
  • Critics impugn that these studies claim that excellence gaps are more important to close than minimum competency gaps: not so! : moral and ethical requirement to assist the lowest levels, but minimal competency should not be the sole policy focus
  • “Free and reduced lunch” defined
  • Impact of poverty on education
  • Opportunity gaps v. achievement gaps
  • Untapped talent
  • Not equity v. excellence: this is equity AND excellence
  • Bias towards reporting or testing results towards minimum competency and avoiding excellence gaps
  • Laws of unintended consequence
  • Example of special education: can be followed for excellence gap in policy
  • How to get more students performing at the highest level?
  • Next study: looking at state k-12 accountability and how each treats excellence. Currently , they either ignore excellence or implicitly penalize it.  And these systems drive priorities for instruction
  • add straight forward-indicators on excellence to promote awareness and action on driving excellence.
  • Excellence is an American value, should be imnportant. We can achieve equity and excellence.
  • We don’t limit achievement in extracurricular activities so why in academics?

Additional Resources and Links


Host: Michael L. Bromley
Original Music by Christopher Bromley (copyright 2011, 2013)
Background snoring: by Stella
Best Dogs Ever: by Puck & Stella

Stella and Bromley selfie

Here for Puck & Stella slideshow

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

The “Excellence Gap”: income & race disparities persist

Excellence-Gap-10-18-13A new report was released yesterday that shows no progress towards “highest achievement levels” by minority groups:

Talent on the Sidelines:  Excellence Gaps and America’s Persistent Talent Underclass by Jonathan Plucker, Jacob Hardesty, and Nathan Burroughs

The report warns:

The circle of high-achieving American students is becoming a preserve for the white and well-off, with potentially severe consequences for the country’s promise of equal opportunity, according to a new report by University of Connecticut Prof. Jonathan Plucker and colleagues at two other universities (

While education and public policy debates have largely centered around basic academic skills, Professor Plucker and his associates are concerned with the progress at the upper end academic achievement. And the report is disheartening. Plucker’s previous study came in 2010, and in it he expressed hope “that the excellence gap might narrow.” It hasn’t:

The new data, though, show the opposite has happened: the gap between white, relatively affluent students and their poorer, nonwhite classmates has only widened.

So what’s it mean? Racism? Social Inequity?

“Talent on the Sidelines” makes clear that what we’re seeing is untapped achievement that has solidified along economic lines. However, by pointing out the disparities between economic classes, we should be heartened, not discouraged or scared into just another “solution” that leads to more of the same. Note:

The math scores based on economic background were even more dramatic, with students ineligible for free or reduced-price lunches improving from 3.1 percent in the advanced range in 1996 to 11.4 percent in 2011. Less affluent students, meanwhile, went from 0.3 percent scoring in the advanced range to 1.8 percent.

So minority students in poverty have made little advance since 1996, while those whose families have entered the middle and professional economic classes are making significant gains. There should be little surprise here. Unfortunately, this report is speaking to policy that doesn’t want to hear these results.

Let’s be clear

Closing the gap will also require an acknowledgement of the role childhood poverty plays in reducing many students’ chance at a quality education.

In other words, universal kindergarten, more money for schools, and the next latest pedagogical program designed to uplift the disadvantaged from the lowest to average scores has not and will not change much of anything, and, worse, it is doing nothing to uplift kids into the highest tiers of academic excellence.

I’m not challenging, and this report is not challenging, programs that have assisted the lowest level students and most impoverished families. There is a role for that. The problem that this report highlights is that as the only policy mechanisms employed, programs focused on the lowest achievers are not helping students escape it.

My question is that if wealth is the greatest indicator of academic success, then why do we do so much as a nation to enable poverty? This report highlights yet another of the unintended consequences of the Nanny State that seeks to end but instead entrenches poverty and it’s awful consequences.

“If the diversity of our school-age population isn’t represented among our high-achieving students, we can make the argument that we’ve failed to achieve either equity or excellence, with serious implications for America’s future,” Plucker said.

Therein the serious policy implications from this report. We can call it, “Give Excellence a Chance”:

The report also contains policy recommendations, ranging from requiring states to include the performances of advanced students in accountability systems to bringing federal resources, which are now essentially non-existent for excellence education, to bear.

Seriously, how can we expect achievement if we only support sufficiency, if that? The same vicious circle as nannyism is at work in schools that merely uphold the minimum without also supporting the patterns, habits and opportunities of high achievers. How to get there… well, that’s debatable. In my experience, signature programs are a waste of resources. Expectations should be raised in every classroom, not just the AP or IB rooms. But that’s another whole debate. Plucker’s report here is pointing to the opposite problem, where all the focus is on the lower end of academic level, which entrenches and deprives potential talent from arising.

We’re chasing the wrong end of the tiger. Educators, policy makes — and voters, please take note of this important study.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Due consideration, and not just a syllabus



Benefits derived from a contract are called “consideration.”

The Common Law holds that contracts that don’t deliver some benefit, or consideration, to both parties are invalid. Let’s say that you sign a contract for lawn service, but you have no lawn. The courts would not hold you to that contract because you couldn’t possibly benefit from a lawn service living, say, in an apartment.

I’ll let the lawyers argue this one out, but for our purposes, let’s look upon the student and teacher relationship as a contract. Teacher contracts to deliver learning to the student, and the student contracts to be taught. Easy enough, except the usual teacher-student contract has lots of clauses and stipulations. If we think of a syllabus as that contract, then here are some of the usual elements to it:

Students shall…

  • purchase a book and materials such as a pen, notebook, or folder
  • arrive to class on time
  • not disrupt class
  • be graded as designated by the teacher and based upon completing assigned tasks
  • turn in assignments on time or be penalized
  • adhere to writing guidelines
  • track grades as posted by the teacher
  • not cheat
  • follow fire and emergency procedures
  • not use cell phone in class
  • etc., etc.

Teacher shall

  • grade students
  • hold certain office hours

Uh, yeah, that’s about your typical syllabus.

My own syllabus generally included all those student things, but I always added the following stipulations on the me, the teacher:

  • Your teacher promises you compassion, enthusiasm, understanding, learning, and love.
  • Maintain a comfortable classroom and learning environment
  • Set clear expectations
  • Bring the highest-level preparation and knowledge to students

Teachers often throw in fluff like that, although I was deadly serious about mine, especially the promise to maintain a friendly and comfortable learning environment and to be prepared as the teacher. And, as with just about every syllabus, mine were never looked at again after first handed out. And, as with contracts, the only time anyone ever really pulls out a syllabus is when there’s a problem. But even then, the syllabus offers no solutions.*

Thinking about a syllabus as a contract makes me reconsider my own. If I were to redo it today, I’d turn the document into a much simpler, much more “considerate” document that holds me responsible as much as it holds the students. I’d add things like, The teacher will:

  • return emails within 24 hours
  • submit grades within 2 days of receiving student on time work
  • never say anything sarcastic or purposefully insulting
  • post assignments online daily

There’s a lot more to go in there, but you see my point: students don’t get much consideration in the typical classroom contract. It’s time we treat them as we expect them to treat us.

– Michael

* Note how college syllabi are far more useful than those for high school; the reason is that the college course is more easily planned, so due dates are able to be scheduled in advance — and kept more easily than in high school.


The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Sitting in on the “Straight Talk” blog

blog_MC900434671aRick Hess kindly invited me back

to step in during his vacation last week to rant and rave about education on his national blog at Education Week.Two years ago I got in trouble with some of Rick’s readers for suggesting that some teachers are overpaid. A shocking idea that, it seems, but my point was that there can be no real basis for teacher pay without the input of their clients, students and families. As a parent, I have no say whatsoever on what my children’s teachers get paid, and I know there are a few of them I’d rather not give money to, just as there are more than a few I’d like to reward even more. Please see my notes on this in “What about the students?” post here.

My point this year is more of the same: that students are clients and not inmates, that schools should support teachers to support students in more meaningful ways, and that teachers should treat students as paying customers who have choice and not as automatons who are just supposed to do everything. Here’s what I came up with:

Bad Dogs or Bad Owners?

PD Stands for Perverse Incentives

Feeding Motivation

Well, I had a blast thinking it over. These ideas are from my experiences as a businessman, a teacher and now as independent adviser and advocate for students and families. Rick has no agenda but the truth, “Straight Talk,” as he calls it, and I appreciate the opportunity from him to add my ideas to the national dialogue.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

What about the students?

Bromley and students
Bromley and students

A Furor but in whose interest?

A blog of mine provoked a bit of a furor two summers ago when I sat in as guest-blogger Rick Hess’ “Straight Up” blog on Education Week: Teacher Pay (Aug 3, 2011)

Huffington Post ran with this title:  Michael Bromley, Washington, D.C. Teacher: Teachers Are Overpaid and on the two or three re-postings of my blog, its readers added a few thousand comments, so angry, so offended — and many unthoughtful, although many quite funny. The overall theme was that I couldn’t possibly be a school teacher if I believed that teachers are overpaid. Have fun on it, if you will, but my point was not about the pay itself (on average teacher pay is right in the middle of Americans’ income, $56,000 a year).  My point was that teacher pay is unrelated to any meaningful measurement of teacher performance. Union and school district negotiations set teacher salaries, not teacher performance, and certainly students and families.

I’m not saying that student achievement should set teacher pay. My idea is that students themselves should set teacher pay. The difference is significant: critics of student performance-based pay are correct that measurements of student performance are often arbitrary and poor indicators of actual teacher performance. or, worse, student performance tests drive rather than measure learning (see this 2011 Freakonimics post on merit pay and a more recent debate on it in Michigan).

My problem with teacher pay is that it is removed from the actual consumers of education, children and their families. Certainly many jobs out there are not set by consumers of the products they deliver, especially in public service where client inputs are absent. That said, any time client input can indicate provider pay, there will be higher performance — and higher pay, especially as the non-performers are weeded out. The only input education consumers have on teacher pay comes indirectly and is always filtered through administrators, union contracts, local politics, and PTAs. While private schools are more responsive to their clients, even they do not directly link teacher performance to client input. Good teachers are generally rewarded, not specifically, the reverse with problem teachers. My objection is not to high teacher pay, it’s to paying all teachers on the same scale regardless of performance. My solution is twofold: 1) allow the real customers of education to have input on teacher pay; and 2) pay the good ones a lot.

The subject has bounced back into the news recently, first with North Carolina’s decision to halt Master’s degree salary hikes for teachers, another, also from the Wall Street Journal, on the $4 Million Teacher in Korea. What they found in North Carolina is that to reward teacher performance with higher salaries based upon advanced degrees does not necessarily lead to better classroom performance. What’s going on in Korea is that some good teachers are able to command huge salaries as advanced tutors, as that education market demands the extra learning these excellent teachers can provide. The subject is generally mute, however, and continues to function merely as a negotiation tool whenever teacher pay comes up for renewal in local systems. Try it, Google, or, as I do, Bing it, and you’ll be inundated with cries of unfairness by the teachers.

But what about the students?

All this discussion gets lost in “student performance,” but nobody cares about what the students themselves want and need. At The A+ Club, we remind the kids that they have no say in teacher pay: no matter how bad that teacher, no matter how unfair that grade, no matter how boring that class, you the student will never, ever change how much or if that teacher gets paid. You can’t fire him. You can’t reduce her pay. Instead, we redirect students to consider what they can control, namely their own tactics on how to approach a problematic class or teacher. Even if those teachers are truly unfair or flawed, it just is, we tell the kids. Instead of assigning blame to the teacher, see what you, the student, can do about it.

The kids are right, though. Teacher employment is disconnected from student input, especially that most significant indicator of teacher success, teacher pay. My blog post on Teacher Pay got into some ideas on how to introduce market conditions into teacher pay. It’s whimsical and unrealistic, but I hoped to make the point that teachers and schools need to view students as a client base and not as a captured audience.

Students are consumers of education, and they deserve to be treated as clients who can exercise choice. Until that day, however, we gotta work with what we got. More importantly, thought academic outcomes belong to students, not teachers, so it really is up to the kids. Let’s talk more about that instead about what the teachers need.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.