Back to the Future


This sounds racist:

Grouping Students by Ability Regains Favor in Classroom

It was once common for elementary-school teachers to arrange their classrooms by ability, placing the highest-achieving students in one cluster, the lowest in another. But ability grouping and its close cousin, tracking, in which children take different classes based on their proficiency levels, fell out of favor in the late 1980s and the 1990s as critics charged that they perpetuated inequality by trapping poor and minority students in low-level groups.

Now ability grouping has re-emerged in classrooms all over the country — a trend that has surprised education experts who believed the outcry had all but ended its use.


“These practices were essentially stigmatized,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who first noted the returning trend in a March report, and who has studied the grouping debate. “It’s kind of gone underground, it’s become less controversial.”

The resurgence of ability grouping comes as New York City grapples with the state of its gifted and talented programs — a form of tracking in some public schools in which certain students, selected through testing, take accelerated classes together.

These programs, which serve about 3 percent of the elementary school population, are dominated by white and Asian students.

Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker who is running for mayor, has proposed expanding the number of gifted classes while broadening the criteria for admission in hopes of increasing diversity. (The city’s Education Department has opposed the proposal, saying that using criteria other than tests would dilute the classes.)

Teachers and principals who use grouping say that the practice has become indispensable, helping them cope with widely varying levels of ability and achievement.

When Jill Sears began teaching elementary school in New Hampshire 17 years ago, the second graders in her class showed up on the first day with a bewildering mix of strengths and weaknesses. Some children coasted through math worksheets in a few minutes, she said; others struggled to finish half a page. The swifter students, bored, would make mischief, while the slowest would become frustrated, give up and act out.

“My instruction aimed at the middle of my class, and was leaving out approximately two-thirds of my learners,” said Ms. Sears, a fourth-grade teacher at Woodman Park Elementary in Dover, N.H. “I didn’t like those odds.”

So you chart your school’s students based on ability and you get a Bell Curve. If you aim your pacing and lesson plans at the 60% in middle of the chart you’ll be going too fast for 20% of the class and too slow for another 20%. So you break them up into 3-4 different classes based on their ability.

Then someone notices that the classes are racially imbalanced, with white and Asian kids over represented in the top group and the black and brown kids overrepresented in the bottom group. This is declared to be ipso facto proof of racism.

The classes are then redivided based on race. This results in widely diverse ability levels within each class, so that the teaching pace is too fast for 20% of the class and too slow for another 20%. But it’s politically correct.

So now you break up each class into groups based on ability.

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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30 Responses to Back to the Future

  1. myiq2xu says:

    One of the results of political correctness trumping everything else is that our high schools now act as if every kid is going to college. Vocational training is virtually nonexistent so kids graduate with no job skills.

    • Jadzia says:

      Seriously. Why did the schools abandon vocational training anyway? They still had it when I was in high school, although even at that point (late ’80s) the offerings were pretty limited. I have one kid who is simply not very academically oriented (he’s smart enough, but just not academic), and vo-tech probably would have been a great thing for him. Instead, it will probably be a junior college — which the California media says is so underfunded/understaffed that associate’s degrees are taking some people SEVEN YEARS to complete simply because required classes are perpetually oversubscribed. Aargh.

      • wmcb says:

        I agree. I have one son who would have been much better off getting well-trained in plumbing or HVAC or something. At least he’d have a paying trade now.

        • Jadzia says:

          I have a couple of brothers in the same position. One is living in a trailer in my dad’s driveway; the other is 35 years old and working at Wal-Mart (but happy to have a job at all). Both of them would have been FAR better off had they received some practical training at the HS level. The only success story among my brothers is the brother who went into the military right after high school and hung in there–he’s now 16 years in and will be able to retire pretty young with actual job skills.

        • elliesmom says:

          I sent both my kids to vocational school before they went to college. It was a very good experience for both of them. I think it would be better if all kids went to vocational school than none of them if I had to choose.

    • DandyTiger says:

      And we have big shortages in various specialties of construction, so then those jobs go to illegal aliens. Genius.

    • Propertius says:

      College or no college, I think one of the biggest mistakes I ever made was not taking “shop”.

  2. Jadzia says:

    I don’t know why they ever stopped this practice. You have to do SOMETHING with the kids who are blowing the roof of the curriculum, other than letting them sit there planning ways to create mischief. What else are you going to do, have them skip grade after grade? That’s fine once, MAYBE twice in an extraordinary situation, but for really bright kids it’s not a permanent solution.

    That said, G&T has its own problems. Hopefully it’s gotten better than it was in the 70s — back then “G&T” was basically a bunch of extra work to keep the smarties out of the teacher’s hair. It was like winning a pie contest in which the first prize was more pie.

  3. wmcb says:

    I prefer reality to pretty dreams. And dealing in the realm of the reality that currently IS is the only shot those dreams ever have of being real, anyway.

    Progs want to dictate reality via fiat, because that’s the way we want it to be. Doesn’t work that way.

  4. votermom says:

    The charter school my kids go to does that – that’s one of the reasons I send them there. Kids are grouped by ability in reading & math (as they get older, in other subjects too).
    But homebase/homeroom is random.

  5. There’s a better way. Mix it up based on ability part of the time, and isolate based on ability part of the time. One of the little secrets about teaching that no one tells you is that you actually learn a lot more when you are teaching a subject. You go into thinking you’re expert, then all the sudden your own abilities sky-rocket.

    Since kids today are much more inclined to trust their peers than authority figures, mixing up up based on ability and introducing a student-guided learning process allows those with greater ability to get into the teaching side, giving them a deeper understanding of the subject or process, and allow those with lesser abilities to get a whole new perspective on it. If you pair that with what you have here part of the time, you don’t have to worry about the really intelligent kids getting less of an education than they otherwise would have, because there is some time of their day dedicated to gifted activities, while kids who are behind get their focus in catching up, too.

    It’s a win-win, but try telling that to todays teachers and teaching experts. Like most people, they just want the easiest way, and this process is by no means easy. It’s also race-blind and socio-economic blind, and that’s just no fun at all for all the vile progs infesting the field.

    • myiq2xu says:

      We all learn in different ways and at different speeds. Some subjects are just beyond some people’s abilities.

      Any one-size-fits-all education system is going to leave some kids out.

    • Jadzia says:

      I think this is a really interesting idea — shows a lot of insight into the way kids’ minds work and how to make them more receptive to learning. Which is always a good thing.

      And then I had a bad flashback to the day I received a dressing-down at work for the apparently-capital offense of posting a photograph on our Website of a white instructor explaining something to a student of color. On the grounds that it was RAAAA****CIST to imply that a white person (in this case, a highly experienced woman who taught several legal writing sections a year) should be explaining anything to a person of color.

      And I could absolutely see the same kind of outrage at play in a public school setting if the “teaching” kids were of a different SES than the “taught” kids.

      • elliesmom says:

        It’s a good idea on paper, but not so great in practice. It assumes that kids who are advanced are interested in teaching peers who may have no interest in learning, and that kids like to be taught by other kids who are smarter than they are. They aren’t and they don’t. While teaching others might solidify the understanding of the more advanced students, it does nothing positive to bridge whatever social gap might be between the two groups. At least not past second grade. It’s racist to sort kids by color. It’s not racist to sort them by ability unless you’re doing things that keep some kids from achieving at high levels based on their race. The mistake we keep making over and over is to focus on the equality of outcome instead of the equality of opportunity. The result of that is a lowering of the bar for everyone. We need to set high standards. We need to give kids the tools and the opportunities to meet those standards. But we shouldn’t be penalizing kids who meet them because some kids don’t. And we shouldn’t be afraid to separate out the kids who need more teacher time than other kids do. It’s racist to deny them what they need to succeed.

        • myiq2xu says:

          When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball they didn’t change the rules to accommodate him. The strike zone stayed the same. The distance between the bases stayed at 90 feet. He became a star anyway. Many of the greatest stars in baseball history were black.

          But all the players play by the same rules.

          Any system that changes the rules based on race is unfair. Some people will justifiably feel resentment.

      • SHV says:

        “And I could absolutely see the same kind of outrage at play in a public school setting if the “teaching” kids were of a different SES than the “taught” kids.”
        Until this year, my MIL taught 4th grade at an “inner city” school. She was told several times by other teachers that she was too old and too White to be teaching AA children. Every year at least 1/2 of her class was functioning 2 or more grades below 4th grade in reading and math.
        Every year, her class ended up #1 on the end of the year standardized test; really pissed people off.

  6. wmcb says:

    • elliesmom says:

      Was Paul Revere a traitor or a hero? Depends on which side of the pond you live on.

      • wmcb says:

        The question I am asking of those who claim “It doesn’t matter, he’s a traitor because he broke the law” is this:

        Is there anything at all that the govt could do, that you would say it was the moral choice to illegally rat them out? If you say no, then you are a Statist automaton. If you say yes, then all we are arguing over is whether this civil liberty violation was bad enough to warrant the leak. Opinions vary on whether it is. I certainly think it is. But hiding behind “It’s illegal, therefore immoral, period, no matter what” is a copout.

  7. wmcb says:

  8. driguana says:

    Tim Tebow signs with the New England Patriots…awesome…that should be liberal fun!

  9. wmcb says:

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