According to a British Study conducted on all students born in the first week of March 1958, and following them through adolescence and on until the age of twenty-three:
There were no average differences between grouped and ungrouped schools because within the grouped schools, high-group students performed better than similar students in ungrouped schools, but low-group students did worse. Students in remedial classes performed especially poorly compared to ungrouped students with similar family backgrounds and initial achievement. With low-group losses offsetting high-group gains, the effects on productivity were about zero, but the impact on inequality was substantial." (Gamoran 1992)
As Gamoran points out, grouping or "tracking" tended to accentuate a student's skills or lack thereof. High-ability students benefited from segregation, but low-ability students did even worse than before. And while low-ability pupils received no benefit whatsoever from the tracking system, neither did their schools. The net gain in performance among the high-ability group was more than offset by the net losses of the low-ability children. Thus, by extension, special magnet schools for math or science or the arts do nothing to raise standards across the board. In fact, once deprived of their better students, ordinary schools will only slide deeper into the abyss. Separating the grain from the chaff will not prop up a flagging school system.
Tracking" Another Example of System Inflexibility
Nor will dividing an individual class into ability groups necessarily alter relative performance. This method, while having the advantage of keeping the students together at least on a social level, still divides them when it comes to learning. If the teaching method used with each group is identical the division into groups will only benefit that group for whom the teaching method is most suited. A "head start" reading program in pre-school for example, will benefit high-ability students but will likely do nothing for low-ability students who need more attention or cannot keep up with the pace. At the same time, students who flunk out of such a program will then be behind their peers. In other words instead of being on the "fast track," they will be on the road to underachievement. Once a bad apple, always a bad apple. The child in reform school learns more about crime than he does about the evils of committing it.
In order for a division into ability groups to be beneficial to all students, attention must be paid to the needs of each individual student. It is exceedingly rare, if not unheard of, for all students to progress at the same rate. While inclusion in a slower moving, low-ability group might have been useful to a student initially it might not be so later on. Pupils in low-ability classes are far more likely than their counterparts in accelerated or enriched classes to describe their schoolwork as too easy or unchallenging. (Gamoran 1992) Separate children by their ability and you stereotype them. Not only do teachers take a different attitude toward perceived low-ability students, so do the students themselves. A "stupid" child is not worthy of an additional attention or instruction. A "stupid" child expects no additional attention or instruction. Challenge is the preserve of the "gifted" pupil, the high-ability student who exhibits a thirst for learning.
Another argument against tracking, and one which applies specifically to mathematics, is provided by the Third International Mathematics and Science study that was conducted in 1999. The study showed a notable slump in the math scores of American students during the period from the fourth through the eighth grade. This drop in scores relative to their European and Asian counterparts was never made up. Interestingly enough, American students are actually tracked at a younger age than their foreign counterparts. And additionally, tracking is far more frequently done on an in-school basis rather than according to the European method of separating ability groups out into entirely different schools. (Brown 2000) This refutes earlier studies done by Robert E. Slavin that showed a general increase in performance in high-ability math groupings, and thus a very real benefit to a small group of children. Slavin reviewed many years' worth of studies performed on elementary school students. However, his determination that grouping actually worked for some students did not prevent his concluding that the overall effect of grouping was zero. Just as in other studies, grouping of students by English and mathematical ability had the same ultimate effect as grouping them by any other skill. The talented students were lifted up, and the low-ability students dragged down. (Slavin 1987) Thus, tracking cannot be blamed for the American slump in math that begins in the fourth grade and ends in the eighth. Neither can tracking be said to be responsible for any overall success. Virtually all American schools have it, yet only a handful of students benefit, while on the other hand, many European schools do not employ tracking and yet their students as a rule perform better than American students.
So what then is the secret to enhanced performance, if not tracking? As many studies have shown, it is the individual attention to a student's needs that is most important. Students learn and develop at different rates. They struggle with different problems, both academic and personal. Tracking treats students as though they were the indistinguishable parts of a bureaucratic machine. A civil servant does only the work in his grade and nothing more. The student in a low-ability group learns only the little that is expected of the whole group. Far wiser, would be a course in which students freely associate with one another, one where they learn side-by-side in the same classroom. There as a group they can learn the personal, moral, social, and intellectual skills that are necessary to become a member of a society. Should any student suffer from shortcomings in a particular area, that student can be tutored independently for as long as is required. A mentor can style a remedial program to fit a particular pupil's needs. Perhaps the low-ability child's problem is not even connected with math. Perhaps the child suffers from a fear of performing in public, or has difficulty in reading, or has unsupportive parents. These are all issues that can be addressed through personalized attention.
In an attempt to balance academic achievement and character education, schools and teachers must respect the primary role of the parents and family. Particularly in view of the growing cultural diversity of our society, it is important to recognize that a child's earliest values will be learned through the example and teaching of his or her parents. Teachers must be careful not to create barriers between parents and children by contradicting or questioning values maintained in the home. If we are to avoid this pitfall, we must improve communications between parents and schools and persuade parents that teachers want to work with them to provide the best education possible for their children. Important values can be reinforced both at home and in school. (Cavazos 2002) child is not merely an academic statistic. A child is a complete person, a complete person who is struggling to become an adult, and a functioning member of his society. As Professor Cavazos states, character education is as important as academic education. And if a child runs into problems, only a careful analysis of his own personal case can ever hope to resolve the difficulties. The imposition of a core curriculum, in any school, is tantamount to saying that every child is the same. And until (and if) factories ever start stamping out identical human beings, no amount of forcing children to conform to specific standards, and to follow government-mandated paths, will ever come to good use.
Individualized Attention and Teacher Leaders
Clearly, the remedy for the overregulation of schools, student tracking, and an over-reliance on the belief that all children are created equal relies on a new methodology wherein individual teachers are responsive to the needs of individual students. Not all teachers are equally adept at adopting new methods of teaching. Years of educational training, and force of habit, may make it difficult for many to change. (Carlson, 2001) Some teachers will find it easier to adopt new methods than others. Those who can adjust their teaching styles to better reflect a new reality that focuses on the needs of students as individual people, and individual learners, will emerge as Teacher Leaders. These teacher leaders will earn their positions of trust by not only discovering and propagating such new techniques and approaches, but also by "selling them" to school principals and thus making possible real change in the school environment.
In practice, this means giving authority to teachers and empowering them to lead. This implies a different power relationship within the school where the distinctions between followers and leaders tend to blur, and also opens up the possibility for all teachers to become leaders at various times and suggests that leadership is a shared and collective endeavor that can engage the many rather than…