In those halcyon years of yore, those were what was called "within-classroom, ability groupings" (commonly called "tracks"). Students were divided into ability groupings ostensibly so that teachers could provide the students in each ability group the more specialized instruction required. Furthermore, belonging to one grouping for one course didn't necessarily mean belonging to the same grouping for other courses.
For example, The Motley Monk was a bluebird in reading but a crow in mathematics. He never quite made it to be a cardinal and sit with the girls who were both pretty and pretty smart. However, The Motley Monk would have been a cardinal--if not an American eagle--in social studies. But, alas, there were no ability groupings for those courses.
All of that fell by the wayside, of course, when liberal educationists determined that dividing classrooms into ability groupings hurt some students' self-esteem. It seems that students on the low end of the skills Totem pole in a particular course (or perhaps even, the entire curriculum) would end up having less self-esteem because their lack of ability and/or skills was made public in the classroom.
According to the New York Times, ability groups may be returning to a public school nearby if empirical research has any influence upon pedagogical practice.
A professor of economics at Dartmouth College, Bruce Sacerdote, conducted two studies. The data indicate that students gain when grouped according to skill level:
- Students at the U.S. Air Force Academy benefited from their peers, but those benefits disappeared when cadets of the highest and lowest abilities were grouped together.
- Hurricane Katrina refugees were tracked across different schools. Students with high abilities benefited the most from high-ability peers.
Caroline Hoxby and Gretchen Weingarth analyzed data from one North Carolina county. They found that students benefited when surrounded by students of similar abilities.
These findings may also be cross-cultural. For example, researchers in Kenya examined its primary schools. They found that all students--not just the best learners--benefited when grouped into different classrooms according to their ability levels.
Then, too, there's the demonstrated benefits of single-sex schooling, especially in mathematics and science, for both genders.
But, the critics argue, "achievement" isn't "feeling." Those who deny the benefits of ability grouping believe that each child's self-esteem--how a student feels about him- or her- self--is more a precursor to and may be more important than achievement. In plain English, those who aren't cardinals and bluebirds will have lower self-esteem because they know they stink in a particular course and need assistance that others don't. Worse yet, they know that everybody now knows they stink at that particular course. So, the critics argue, segregating students into ability groups reinforces negative self-esteem because "once a crow, always a crow." In short, there's no way out of one's intellectual impoverishment.
Come to think of it, isn't that how liberal economics works too?
Let the discussion begin...
To read the New York Times article, click on the following link:
"Tracking Students By Ability Produces Results."