Advanced Academic Programs Only Contribute to Inequity

It has been three decades since Robert Slavin at Johns Hopkins University told us in "Achievement Effects of Ability Grouping in Secondary Schools: A Best-Evidence Synthesis" that there is no educational benefit in grouping students according to what we perceive as their academic abilities. On the other hand, there is a clear drawback: Inequity in basic education. Receiving responses that are sometimes quite virulent on posts where I call for removal of advanced academic programs makes me realize that some parents actually fear public school education. Basically, parents fear that the curriculum provided to the students not deemed advanced is bad. This is the same reason why bringing equity to education is sometimes viewed as catering to the lowest common denominator. I guess I would be equally concerned if my child not deemed advanced is then asked to go through the word "the" as practice for sight reading over and over. Is this fear grounded on reality? Sadly, in a lot of cases, it is. Unlike in the previous post, I will mention a cartoon and not a comic strip. "Is your child a quill or a crayon?"

Average Jeff (an episode of Clarence)

In this episode of the cartoon series "Clarence", students were separated into two classrooms: the quills and the crayons. A standardized test was given and those who scored above average were placed in the quill classroom and those who scored lower were deemed as "crayons". The quill class was provided an enriched curriculum while the crayon class was given something that is even worse than remedial.

Yes, it is only a cartoon, but it nicely illustrates how ability grouping can compromise basic education. Hattie includes ability grouping in his analysis on what helps or harms education. And it is listed in red which means it is bad.

Above copied
from Visible Learning

And we have been informed by experts at the National Research Council that mixed ability classrooms are good for basic education.

Above copied from
Helping Children Learn Mathematics

High ability children can still receive challenging lessons in a mixed ability classrooms. A teacher in Australia has demonstrated years ago that every child benefits with challenging tasks in mathematics in a classroom without the need of sorting the children according to their abilities. And in Britain, there is a growing movement towards mixed ability classes in the sciences.

Above copied from
The Guardian
In "Lessons From Top_Performing Education Systems", Lucy Crehan notes that countries perceived as successful in basic education do not sort children according to academic ability.

Above copied from
Lessons from ‘top performing’ education systems

Still, it is difficult to convince parents that equity leads to excellence. Sorting children according to academic ability has a negative effect on children placed in lower-ability classrooms and we either want our children to be at an advantage or we fear that out children will be deemed a "crayon".

At this point, I am comforted by the words of the former principal of Mason Crest Elementary School, Brian Butler. His words:

People love to protect a system that benefits them or in this case their kids. But it’s not a system that benefits all kids.

Unfortunately, they see the label as an insurance policy against a traditional school system that sorts and selects and it’s hard for them to see that it’s possible because they have not had the benefit of experiencing a school that operates as a Professional Learning Community at Work where we look at what kids need by Name and by Need not by label.

We don’t ever want to hold a kid back and want to appropriately challenge them “by student, by standard by learning target” when they have shown they need it, but not just because they got the “magic ticket”, the label.

Unfortunately, many of us(educators) still hold on to the traditional system of sort and select because we embrace the isolated teacher mindset (which is impossible to meet the needs of every child) instead of the team approach where the collective wisdom, knowledge and experience of the educators can truly meet the needs of each child.

So parents want the best for their child and they think the traditional system can’t meet the needs of their child. I am not talking about the traditional system, I am talking about the PLC at Work system where we abandon the idea of the isolated teacher in favor of collaborative teams of teachers who take collective responsibility for every single child.

No longer my student and your students but only OUR STUDENTS in this School!

We, parents, learned as well from our schools. The reason why we want advanced academic programs appears to be: We do not have confidence in our public schools. This is the bottom line.