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Teaching to the Bubble: Myth or Reality?

Overdeck Family Foundation funds study to establish facts, guide practice and policy
Posted September 15, 2015
Amy Shelton Amy Shelton

Are K-12 teachers in the United States focusing most of their attention on students who are performing just below grade-level expectations, those most likely to show improvement in meeting proficiency standards? Are they giving less attention to students performing well above or below expectations, those not likely to show dramatic change?

With $717,000 in funding, the Overdeck Family Foundation is supporting an important new multi-year study to investigate whether such "teaching to the bubble" is in fact taking place. And if so, why.

"Answering this question is important for everyone," says Laura Overdeck, a longtime Center for Talented Youth benefactor and advisory council member, and founder of Bedtime Math, a nonprofit that makes math fun for kids.

Laura and her husband John, a CTY alumnus and former instructor, created their family's foundation to help fulfill children’s untapped potential by funding innovative programs. "We want to ensure that our local and national education systems achieve their goals to the benefit of each student, and that the emphasis on achieving standards allows for personalized teaching as well."

"This project bridges the gap between basic science research on learning and in-school practice," says study leader Amy Shelton, a cognitive neuroscientist who directs research at CTY and the School of Education, and who serves on the steering committee of the Science of Learning Institute, a priority of the Rising to the Challenge campaign.

In the first phase of the study, Shelton and her team will survey teacher practice and perceptions in public, charter, and independent schools in Baltimore City and surrounding counties. They will then conduct in-depth interviews and in-school observations to refine their survey and take it nationwide — seeking comprehensive insights Shelton and her collaborators hope will help to drive conversations and inform education policy.

Already, Shelton has met with tremendous support from teacher groups, who, she says, "need a voice on the complex issues they experience in today’s classrooms," from standardization of curricula, to incentive structures, to a lack of tools needed to implement individualized instruction. "They say things like, 'I'd love to measure growth; do differentiation,' but they don't know how."

"This is an ambitious project," adds Shelton. "Thanks to the generous support of the Overdecks, we'll get to the bottom of this and work to ensure that teachers are able to provide all students with the instruction they need."

To learn more about how you can support Amy Shelton's work and other philanthropic opportunities, please contact Margaret Walsh, CTY's senior director of development, or Michele Ewing, associate dean for development and external affairs for the School of Education.