Are We Lifting All Boats or Only Some?
Equity versus excellence and the talented tenth
By Richard A. Epstein, Daniel Pianko, Jon Schnur and Joshua Wyner
Education Next
Summer 2011

For a decade, at least since the passage of No Child Left Behind, the nation’s foremost education goal has been to erase achievement “gaps” in which African American, Latino, and low-income students dramatically lag behind their peers. This emphasis has enjoyed broad support through the Bush and Obama administrations, and from major funders, but it raises the question of whether high achievers and gifted students have been overlooked along the way. Has a focus on reading and math proficiency, and on boosting graduation rates, meant less attention and support for the “talented tenth”? Richard A. Epstein, professor of law at New York University School of Law and senior lecturer at the University of Chicago, and Daniel Pianko, a partner at University Ventures Fund, argue that high achievers have paid a high price for our attention to struggling students. Jon Schnur, chairman of the board of New Leaders for New Schools, and Joshua Wyner, of the Aspen Institute, see no tension, and argue that equity-focused efforts to improve teaching and learning benefit students across the board.

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