The good news that a local parent has written a thoughtful article on rigor, achievement and what’s being done about it–or not–in the “down county” (aka the Red Zone) part of MoCo .
The bad news that it appeared in the tiny Takoma Voice, so chances are few had a chance to read it.
Which is why I’m going to harness my vast international readership (lol) to give it some additional attention, as I think in captures very well the the frustration and confusion that’s out there over this issue. You can read “Desperately Seeking Rigor: Experiments in Local Schools” here.
As the author highlights, three things are going on simultaneously in this corner of the world.
- A move to hetergeneous classes and the elimination of upper level or GT designated classes. The theory is that this will eliminate low expectations and provide role models in the classroom for low achieving students.
- Offering higher level classes but pushing as many on-level kids as possible into those classes, whether they have the requisite preparation or not. The thinking is they benefit by osmosis just from being in the class. (Thank you Jay Matthews, the chief cheerleader for this at the high school level.)
- Homogeneous grouping for highly gifted students in stand alone programs.
As you can imagine, the first two are detrimental to highly able kids, the third benefits only a small number of kids.
At the author’s elementary school, they are piloting an introduction of the Center Program curriculum. She asks, ” How much of the magic at a Center is due to the “HG curriculum,” and how much is due to the fact that kids were given an entire reading block with the teacher focusing on the relatively high and homogeneous level of instruction?”
I’ll tell you. Most of it. The “magic” is in the experience of being — for the first time in a student’s life — in an entire classroom full of similarly high achieving, quirky, brainiac kids who get your mile-a-minute self.
Meanwhile at her local middle school they are doing away with GT science classes. This headshaking quote kind of says it all:
TPMS Principal Renay Johnson says she was looking for a way to prepare more students for high-school level science courses. She also acknowledged that while the GT Science classes were diverse, she could no longer stand to see the racial segregation in the “on-level” classes. The staff on the school’s Instructional Council voted in favor of ending the separate GT Science classes. “What I’ve heard from teachers is that the on-level classes were very challenging for the teachers. There weren’t any models in the classroom to get the students where they need to be,” says Johnson. “It took twice as long to deliver the material.”
So we’re going to fix this by making high achieving kids who really want to learn pay the price and be “models in the classroom? ” Pardon the snark, but I thought that was what teachers were supposed to do.
The magic bullet, of course is going to be “differentiation” in the classroom. All the teachers who were frustrated by on-level homogeneous classes have been magically trained and will be able to masterfully “deliver the material” to 35 kids that may be 3 or 4 grade levels apart. And the kids who were disengaged and not achieving in on-level classes are somehow going to be inspired by their classmates in heterogeneous classes.
Hello! This is middle school, people! The students who aren’t doing well are going to resent like hell–and do all they can to make miserable–the kids who are far ahead and want to learn. The sad thing is that even this school’s staff acknowledged that “research indicates that kids on the high end of the achievement spectrum achieve less in heterogeneous classrooms than they do in homogeneous classrooms.” (For more than you ever wanted to know about grouping for gifted and on-level kids, check out Hoagies’ Grouping Gifted Children page.)
Thankfully, at M.’s school they have gone in the opposite direction and are introducing GT classes for science and social studies. A parent quoted in the article says it well,
In the red zone, if we want to provide the same educational opportunities to kids at the upper ability level then grouping is essential, otherwise we’re just going to have two school systems, separate and unequal.
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