Failing Our Brightest Kids

Failing Our Brightest Kids The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students

Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Brandon L. Wright
paper, 312 Pages
Pub. Date: September 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-841-2
Price: $34.00

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2016 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice

In this provocative volume, Chester E. Finn, Jr., and Brandon L. Wright argue that, for decades, the United States has done too little to focus on educating students to achieve at high levels. The authors identify two core problems: First, compared to other countries, the United States does not produce enough high achievers. Second, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are severely underrepresented among those high achievers. The authors describe educating students to high levels of achievement as an issue of both equity and human capital: talented students deserve appropriate resources and attention, and the nation needs to develop these students’ abilities to remain competitive in the international arena.


This book provides myriad insights into why the US has a relatively poor record of educating its best students and gives a clear, balanced prescription for what is to be done. The bottom line: we should not settle for getting everyone merely to proficiency; we need actively to cultivate our star students, particularly those from poor families. — Harold Levy, executive director, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, and former New York City schools chancellor

With this vital and controversial book, Checker Finn and Brandon Wright have made a huge contribution to educational thinking on a subject that has been neglected for far too long. Policy makers across America and beyond should pay attention! — Sir Michael Barber, chief education advisor, Pearson

Failing Our Brightest Kids provides a comprehensive analysis of the failure to educate American students to high levels. Using international comparisons, Finn and Wright provide clear recommendations and opportunities for action that meet both the challenge and charge of America—educational excellence and equity. — Hanna Skandera, secretary of education, New Mexico Public Education Department

Finn and Wright make a strong case that policy makers and education leaders must work to improve the education of academically talented children from all socioeconomic categories so that our nation lives up to its commitment to equity, maintains its competitive edge, and helps these children develop as happy and productive citizens. — M. René Islas, executive director, National Association for Gifted Children

The best book on gifted education I have ever encountered. — Jay Mathews, Washington Post

From the very outset, the authors wade unflinchingly into turbulent waters of identifying gifted students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while holding aloft the flag for our nation’s high flyers. No fife and drums were needed to herald the advance of their ideas; their words march forth on their own. — Kumar Singham, Examiner

All of us need these talented individuals, and to cultivate them we should examine how other countries do it. The bulk of Failing Our Brightest Kids does precisely that...The profiles are informative, and they offer school officials examples to follow and the rhetoric to justify them. — Mark Bauerlein, Education Next

What is society's responsibility vis-à-vis children who excel in school? Finn and Wright (both, Thomas B. Fordham  Institute) do a brilliant job of tackling this thorny question through the lens of policy. This volume leaves readers—be they scholars, parents, or policy makers—with a deep understanding of what it will take to address the special needs of under-served, high-achieving students in the US and bring their talents to fruition. — R. F. Subotnik, CHOICE Connect

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About the Authors

Chester E. Finn, Jr. is the distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. His previous positions include Professor of Education and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, counsel to the U.S. ambassador to India, legislative director for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Research and Improvement. He has also been on the research staffs of the Brookings Institution, the Hudson Institute, and the Manhattan Institute, and has taught high school social studies in Massachusetts. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than twenty books and has written more than four hundred articles in a wide array of scholarly and popular publications. He is a regular contributor to Fordham’s Education Gadfly Weekly, a contributing editor of Education Next, and a contributor to such online outlets as, Politico, and He serves on the Maryland State Board of Education and the boards of the National Council on Teacher Quality and the Core Knowledge Foundation and has spoken at hundreds of seminars, conferences, symposia, and meetings across the United States and in many other countries. He is the recipient of awards from the Educational Press Association of America, the National Association for Gifted Children, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Education Writers Association. He holds three degrees from Harvard University and an honorary doctorate from Colgate University.

Brandon L. Wright is a managing editor and policy associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he has worked since graduating from American University Washington College of Law in 2012 with a Juris Doctor. During law school, he clerked for an education law firm that advocates for students with special needs and was a senior staff member of the Administrative Law Review. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from the University of Michigan.

Both authors are also products of gifted-education programs of very different kinds. Finn was able to accelerate in mathematics in the Dayton Public Schools and later graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, a selective-admission private high school. Wright participated in a full-time gifted pull-out program from grades 4 through 8 in his Michigan public school system.

Table of Contents


Interview with Author

Educational Innovations Series

Other books in Educational Innovations Series

The Every Student Succeeds Act

Edited by Frederick M. Hess and Max Eden, Afterword by Mitchell D. Chester

Other books in Educational Innovations Series

Policy Patrons

Megan E. Tompkins-Stange, Foreword by Robert B. Schwartz

Other books in Educational Innovations Series

The New Education Philanthropy

Edited by Frederick M. Hess and Jeffrey R. Henig