This sounds racist:
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.