Untracked

Many schools have abolished the remedial track to provide more challenge for low achievers. Some have no advanced track either.  Tracking and Detracking: High Achievers in Massachusetts Middle Schools, a Fordham report by Brookings scholar Tom Loveless, finds “tracked schools did better, but there aren’t many of them left.” From Education Gadfly:

Loveless finds that most middle schools have done away entirely with tracking in English language arts, science, and social studies, though this practice endures in math, albeit with fewer tracks than two decades ago. Further, “detracking” — reducing the number of subject-area courses offered in a given grade in a given school — may adversely affect high-achieving youngsters in math. (That’s not the case in English; history and science achievement were not analyzed.)

Middle schools with more tracks have more advanced and proficient math students, while detracked schools have more failing and “needs improvement” students.

Loveless also found that, when schools’ socioeconomic statuses are held constant, each additional track in eighth-grade math (up to three) is associated with a 3 percentage-point rise in students scoring at the advanced level. That means the advantage for a school offering three tracks instead of one is associated with a 6 percentage-point gain in the number of students performing at high levels.

Because math achievement is so low overall, that’s a significant difference.

In the late ’60s, my high school had five levels in English, three in math and two in science. In history and foreign languages, I think only AP courses were Level 1. I loved tracking. The low-level classes may have been a rotten deal for the slower learners, but tracking saved me from terminal boredom.

Update:   On Flypaper, Mike Petrilli cites Caroline Hoxby’s research, which finds that students do best in “boutique” classes designed for their needs.  A little mixing — average students with above-average students, for example — but too much disparity causes problems.

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Comments

  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “tracking saved me from terminal boredom.”

    CAN I GET AN AMEN?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

    I made the mistake of skipping summer school and taking non-honors Econ my senior year of high school. Not only did the teacher go on to marry my Homecoming date for that year, but it may well have been the single most mind-numbing experience I’ve ever had.

    Tracking by the bushel, tracking by the boatload! Tracking for everyone… if only to keep kids like me from shooting themselves in the head.

  2. Elitists! Elitists! 🙂

  3. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/6347273/Ofsted-brightest-not-challenged-at-school.html is an interesting article from the UK about reasons why teachers there fail to provide a higher level of teaching to gifted children:

    “The comments follow the publication of a report that found many teachers refused to give bright children extra tuition for fear of promoting ‘elitism’.

    “In the latest study, Ofsted said: ‘Many teachers were not convinced about the importance of making differentiated provision for these pupils, either because they thought it would be at the expense of other pupils or because they felt there was insufficient support to help them do this properly.'”

  4. “I loved tracking. The low-level classes may have been a rotten deal for the slower learners, but tracking saved me from terminal boredom.”

    And therein lies the rub. I would challenge, however, the concept of “slower learners,” as I don’t fully accept that what we are talking about is speed.

  5. Yes, but tracking implies measurement and measurement implies accountability. What would be the point that?

  6. Charles R. Williams says:

    Of course there are slower learners and their are outright slow learners too. High achievers in math and science need a differentiated curriculum starting no later than the 6th grade. They need a curriculum that the majority of students is unable and unmotivated to master. This is especially true for disadvantaged students whose parents have few resources to compensate for an inadequate curriculum.

  7. I would prefer tracking based on behavior.

  8. The rotten deal for slower learners is being stuck in a classroom where the teacher has to pretend to “differentiate instruction” and try to give everyone a little of her attention, instead of in a situation where all instruction, all the time is aimed dead on at the an appropriate level for everyone in the room.

    Differentiation is something of a myth. It just doesnt happen in most classrooms. My guess is if you had the same teacher teach the same class (the only way to really fairly compare), once to a tracked group of kids, once in a differentiated manner, the tracked kids would show way more progress.

  9. Differentiation in my case mostly consisted of teachers letting me read my book when I was done with in-class assignments. I had a couple teachers who tried to challenge me with extra stuff- my fourth grade teacher memorably gave me logic puzzles to occupy me, and my fifth-grade teacher busted me not paying attention to the math lesson, which I already knew, because I was working on a poem, and she let me keep working on it. By high school, the more autocratic teachers wouldn’t even let me read, so I sat there, while my geometry teacher went over complimentary and supplementary angles AGAIN, and was bored out of my skull. (And geometry was the highest track they would let me take!) My geometry teacher later told me she thought I had the worst attitude on the planet, and eventually realized I was just bored.

    Anyway, I had as many AP classes as I could take, and took some college classes in high school, and was reasonably well-served, geometry notwithstanding. It would have killed me to not have those options, though. I will homeschool my children if they are bright and don’t have some kind of tracking options.

  10. I have never heard a convincing explanation of how having 10 minutes of the teacher’s attention, in an untracked (heterogeneous) classroom with “differentiated instruction,” is as good as having 50 minutes of the teacher’s attention, in a tracked (homogeneous) classroom.

  11. “Differentiation is something of a myth. It just doesnt happen in most classrooms.”

    Same thing is true of tracking. The most senior teachers tend to go for the higher level tracks. The newbies, the coaches who have to teach something, and the teachers certified in special education but not a content area gravitate to the others. Research has tended to support better outcomes for the “lower level” or “remedial) kids when integrated into mixed-ability classrooms.

  12. It’s really a simple question of priorities. Tracking is good for advanced students, because it lets them get ahead. Homogenization is better for slower students, because they’re in a class which on average moves faster. Which group is more important to cater to? It’s a genuine challenge to decide, and one which we’re reluctant to address directly.

  13. From the study, page 13: “Rees, Argys, and Brewer
    (1996) analyzed data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS: 88) and concluded that high achievers pay a price for placement in heterogeneous math classes. Their achievement falls by approximately 8.4 percent. Low performing math students do get a boost from heterogeneous
    classes, but their gain of 8.6 percent is nearly the same as the achievement loss suffered by high-ability students. Students of average ability lose a little, too. Their achievement dips by about 2.0 percent. Greater equality is attained—the gap between high and low achievers shrinks—but it is accomplished by depressing achievement at the top.”

    The interests of high-achieving students (and their parents) do not align with the interests of low-achieving students (and their parents). There is some suggestion, in the text of this study, that detracking a school drives away parents of high achievers who have the means to find another placement for their children.

  14. This is becoming more true in math. There is a big push for all students to have 3-4 years of high school math, including two years of Algebra. To do this many schools are pushing all students into Algebra I Freshmen year, including all Special Education students, in differentiated, collaborative classes. I have already decided I will fight to have my child take Algebra in 8th grade at least, just to avoid the possibility she is in one of these classes. The idea of differentiating in Algebra always struck me as strange. To advance in math you need a certain level of mastery of many topics and skills. In a differentiated class, how do subsequent teachers know which skills each student has mastered.

  15. Loved tracking. My kids, who went to private school, were tracked, and my son–advanced in languages, slow in math–would have been ignored in public school. What’s AP if not tracking under another name?

    If more public schools tracked, maybe parents wouldn’t flee to private schools.

  16. Also–smarter kids are more likely to challenge teachers (and not in “inspiring them to do their best”), and thus, are PITAs. Seems to me, most teachers just want to live through the day.

  17. I took AP history and English and remedial math and science classes, so I have an unique persepctive.

    The lower performers really suffer because of poor teaching. The educational experts still don’t know how to effectively teach low performers, and they don’t seem to really want to learn. They are very interested in experimenting with ridiculous socio-political theory that seems to be Rousseauian in type. The high performers suffer less from poor teaching because they’re, well, smart. So, the students who really require the best of the best get the worst of the worst.

    I had some really great teachers, usually in my advanced classes. I had some truly terrible ones, usually in my remedial classes.

  18. George Larson says:

    Stacy,

    Do you think the teachers who taught your AP classes would allow themselves to be assigned to remedial classes? Would they consider it unfair punishment? Would you expect them to leave for another school district or use union rules to block the assignment?

  19. These replies are wonderful data. They say quite a lot about the arguments (and arguers) for tracking.

    Let me take just one faux-authoritative example:
    “Differentiation is something of a myth. It just doesnt happen in most classrooms”

    Actually, homogeneity is the myth. Within-group (tracked) differences are enormous, and often they are larger than cross-group differences. For example, kids in an “average” or middle group are almost as likely to be similar to or different from kids in a high or low group as kids within either of these groups are different from each other. Bottom line, kids are way different from each other no matter what group we stick them into or how we label them.

    And more important for the posters here, high-performing students benefit enormously from differentiated instruction. As individuals, their unique, idiosyncratic, and wacky ways of relating to learning and knowledge can bear no resemblance to their tracked peers.

    So there’s also an interesting element of truth in the quoted statement above. Teachers, generally, are only recently learning how to teach in differentiated classrooms. After all, it has been less than 25 years since the seminal research (Jeannie Oakes’ “Keeping Track”) opened up a reconsideration of tracking. Actual “detracking” in schools began as spotty experiments years later, and even now (in spite of Tom Loveless’s reporting) genuinely detracked classrooms are not widespread in spite of what schools themselves report. However, on a positive note, there is increasing encouragement and opportunity for teachers to differentiate instruction.

    As an English teacher for over 30 years, I have first-hand experience with delivering boring lessons to low-, medium-, and high-ability classes. This had nothing to do with whether or how the groups were tracked. Equal numbers of each group also found me fascinating. 🙂

  20. All AP level teachers are not necessarily equally effective with lower-achieving students. They may be highly effective with kids who can move at a fast pace, with little repetition, combine steps etc. but may have difficulty with slowing their pace, repeating and re-stating, simplifying, and just anticipating where and how students will tend to get stuck.

    I think the issue of driving high achievers out of untracked schools is probably under-appreciated. Their parents are likely to put a high priority on education and to have the resources to move to another school/district or to put their kids in private schools, if political/community efforts to retain/establish tracks in the current school are unsuccessful.

  21. George: I teach both AP (two different courses) and a remedial course — essentially our lowest remedial course, actually. What’s your point?

  22. > I would challenge, however, the concept of “slower learners,” as I don’t fully accept that what we are talking about is speed.

    I think most of the people here are talking about speed, although I can see that you are talking about something else.

    > The most senior teachers tend to go for the higher level tracks. The newbies, the coaches who have to teach something, and the teachers certified in special education but not a content area gravitate to the others.

    This may well be the problem– union work rules that favor seniority over the interests of the kids.

    Similarly, senior teachers also tend to gravitate toward the most affluent schools in a district. Is the only solution to randomize school assignment, so that any student in the district stands an equal chance of being sent to any school regardless of distance traveled? Or would it make more sense to assign teachers where they are most needed?

    > Tracking is good for advanced students, because it lets them get ahead. Homogenization is better for slower students, because they’re in a class which on average moves faster. Which group is more important to cater to?

    Do you really have to ask? Aren’t they equally important? And isn’t the solution to seek some sort of balance when competing interests are unavoidable, rather than lean full tilt toward one half-baked view of social justice or another?

  23. But it’s not just slower learners, who might be motivated but hampered by lack of ability, poor preparation etc. who slow down a class.

    It’s torture to be a smart kid stuck in a class with jack-asses who don’t want to be there, don’t want to learn, and make your life a living hell if you do want to do well. Why should these students set the tone and the pace?

  24. “Allensworth et al. (2008) investigated Chicago’s 1997 effort to make college preparatory classes mandatory for all ninth graders..And they found one benefit: More students received credit in Algebra I and English I…However, several alarming effects were also uncovered. Failure rates in the courses increased, grades declined, and test scores were unchanged. Students who would otherwise have taken remedial classes were no more likely to obtain advanced math credits beyond Algebra II, nor were they more likely to graduate from high school or to attend college. Absenteeism increased among average and high ability students. The authors questioned whether the benefits suggested by previous research actually materialize when detracking is implemented in a system as large as Chicago. They also expressed concerns that detracking may depress the achievement of middle and high achievers.”

  25. Several commenters have mentioned that part of the difficulty with untracked classes are the kids who don’t care and don’t try hard. I often wondered what would happen if classes were segregated by who did homework and who did not. (other than the social problem that in some schools the classes would look different)

  26. In this town, parents often do the children’s homework. I walked into that the other day, stating to a late elementary student, “well, they do the project work in class, because the teachers suspect the parents do the work.” “Oh,” he said, “My parents do that!”

    It could be that the children passing in completed work don’t have a clue how to do the work, because their parents did it. However, the teachers take the completed assignments as a sign that the class understands the concepts involved, and move on. The kids who are honest that they didn’t understand a concept may be better students–if the purpose of being in a classroom is to learn, rather than collect a series of check marks in a teacher’s grade book.

  27. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Quoth Martin:

    These replies are wonderful data. They say quite a lot about the arguments (and arguers) for tracking.

    They’re horrible data. They’re anecdotal and unformatted responses from a self-selecting group of decidedly non-random responders. But since you were probably just trying to dress your self-righteous snark up in the veneer of academese, I suppose we can let that one slide.

    Let me take just one faux-authoritative example:
    “Differentiation is something of a myth. It just doesnt happen in most classrooms”

    Actually, homogeneity is the myth. Within-group (tracked) differences are enormous, and often they are larger than cross-group differences. For example, kids in an “average” or middle group are almost as likely to be similar to or different from kids in a high or low group as kids within either of these groups are different from each other. Bottom line, kids are way different from each other no matter what group we stick them into or how we label them.

    Look, tracking doesn’t purport to sort students by a 145,000-point genotype with controls for upbringing and nutritional history. It purports to sort kids by ability, and, frankly, in terms of ability the similarities between kids in tracked groups tend to be pretty strong. In other words, in every respect that actually relevant to the conversation, it’s simply false that “(k)ids in an “average” or middle group are almost as likely to be similar to or different from kids in a high or low group as kids within either of these groups are different from each other.”

    And more important for the posters here, high-performing students benefit enormously from differentiated instruction. As individuals, their unique, idiosyncratic, and wacky ways of relating to learning and knowledge can bear no resemblance to their tracked peers.

    “Can” is the key word here. Sure, it’s modally possible that the kids in a high-tracked class could bear no resemblance to their peers in the way they learn. But it’s also modally possible that an entire class would spontaneously combust, all at once.

    On some level, there are always going to be differences. That’s not what’s at issue. What’s at issue is the scope of those difference, and whether there are benefits to be gained from grouping kids of broadly similar ability together. If you want to argue that the four smartest kids in the honors colloquium have just as much in common (in terms of how they learn) with the four dimmest bulbs in remedial freshman writing as they do with each other… then you’re simply crazy.

    But let’s say that you aren’t crazy. Let’s grant you every last bit of your ridiculous argument. Even then, if “differentiated” instruction is good in non-tracked classes, wouldn’t it be EVEN BETTER in tracked classes, where the teacher could at least be more or less in the same chapter with all the students, if not on the same page?

    (snip the overly wordy exposition on the history and future of differentiated education)

    As an English teacher for over 30 years, I have first-hand experience with delivering boring lessons to low-, medium-, and high-ability classes. This had nothing to do with whether or how the groups were tracked.

    I agree. The fact that you have experience in delivering lessons has nothing to do with whether or how the groups were tracked.

    Equal numbers of each group also found me fascinating. 🙂

    The young tend to be impressed with sophistry.

  28. Smart kids make teachers feel competent. Dumb kids make teachers feel inadequate; and they are inadequate because they’re not skilled enough to teach them.

  29. Mike Curtis says:

    No matter how you feel about it, somebody needs to let the kids realize that not everybody gets to be an astronaut when they grow up.

    Tracking prevents egalitarians from trying to fit square pegs into round holes at the expense of people who know it’s not possible. Therein lies it’s practicality. Like it or not, iron ore cannot be forged into gold.

  30. Tracking is the booby prize for those students that aren’t given the freedom of self-paced education.

  31. George Larson says:

    Lightly Seasoned

    I wonder if teachers will volunteer to give up their AP classes to teach remedial classes. You will, but how will others react?

    Stacy suggests it is less fun to teach a remedial class.

    How many would volunteer for a less satisfying job for the same pay?

  32. Roger Sweeny says:

    Martin,

    If you are one of those superteachers who can make differentiation work, God bless you. But the other 99% of us disserve our students when we try to teach students who read and write on a 12th grade level and students who read and write on a 4th grade level in the same room at the same time.

  33. Last year I worked on a team that taught a group of low-achievers. My course had been expanded to a 2-year course instead of the normal 1 year (so was math and history, but not English). Across all the core subjects the scores on end-of-year assessments rose dramatically compared to what similar students had done in years past. In effect, it removed most of the students from our district’s statistical basement. These results would not have been possible in a standard differentiated classroom.
    The students were far from homogenous, but they were all similar in their need for more individual attention from teachers. The teachers and support staff were mostly hand-picked by the administration based upon two criteria – ability to teach and interaction with students. Some of you have complained about the tendency of veteran teachers to avoid low performing classes… but that is not a bad thing. I’ve known plenty of skilled teachers who were great with average or above average students, but would begin to feel suicidal with low performers. This would clearly affect their teaching no matter how many years they had or how hard they tried.

  34. tim-10-ber says:

    I believe it is high time to pay attention to the above average and high achieving students. Heck, even the “average” students should be challenged. This game of focusing on the bottom is hurting the rest of the students that are bored to tears in their government default schools! Give me private education or an excellent tracking program any day. Mainstreaming is not good for the average or high achieving kids as it slows down the pace of the class. Sent us to private schools as the government/default schools could not handle the wide variety of needs in the class and my kids (yes, higher achieving) were cheated out of a quality education by teachers stretched to their limits and most of them poor quality and ineffective because of this. I have to wonder if the teachers had been teaching kids in tracks how much better teachers they would be and how much better an experience we would have had in our government/default schools…

    Tracking is the only way to go…

    Great comments on this post…

  35. George: there is nothing less satisfying about teaching low achievers. In some ways it is more satisfying. What is unsatisfying about SuperSub’s experience pulling that group out of the “basement”? I would posit that Stacy does not teach them and therefore is basing her opinion on hearsay.

    All groups offer different sets of challenges. Rarely will my student teachers take on my AP students because this set of kids is savage when they smell weakness and will absolutely eat them alive.

  36. Lightly Seasoned, you are absolutely correct. I know a teacher who had to stop taking student teachers. Due to geographical constraints, student teachers came from weaker academic programs than the state’s flagship campus and did not have the subject-matter knowledge to handle the honors/AP kids. Eaten alive. Of course, the problem has been solved; there are no more honors/AP classes and there is full mainstreaming and inclusion. That teacher has retired.

    By the same token, some teachers who are excellent with honors/AP kids who can work at high speeds, require little repetition, see patterns and grasp concepts easily, but have difficulty getting down to the level of less advanced students or have insufficient patience for repetition.

  37. George Larson says:

    Lightly Seasoned

    I was merely quoting Stacy.

    I have met teachers who agreed with you. I have also met teachers who wanted to avoid the remedial groups for various reasons. My impression was that most of the AP and IB qualified teachers did not to want to go back to ordinary classes. It sounded as if they pursued the qualification for that reason. These were small numbers at 2 schools and these were just casual conversations.

  38. George Larson says:

    Lightly Seasoned

    I have heard of ordinary and remedial classes eating student teachers alive. Lack of confidence is enough to cause this.

  39. “And more important for the posters here, high-performing students benefit enormously from differentiated instruction. As individuals, their unique, idiosyncratic, and wacky ways of relating to learning and knowledge can bear no resemblance to their tracked peers.”

    Ah, sorry, that wasn’t my children’s experience. Their public school practices inclusion to an unusual degree, though, so others’ experience may vary. Now, in the report, it is noted that there doesn’t seem to be an advantage for tracking in English in Middle school–or at least, it doesn’t show up in MCAS scores.

    I should note that, in my opinion, the MCAS language arts exams are not a good method to judge competence in writing. It may separate out the kids who don’t have a clue, but the scoring methods for the open response questions favor the long response over the succinct response, and gives high marks to responses which regurgitate details in the reading passages. Thus, it’s possible to “teach to the test,” and in so doing, teach very bad writing habits.

    In English, I think what the children experience before they come into the classroom makes a crucial difference. If they read for pleasure at home, their leisure reading time will far outstrip anything assigned in class. If they hear grammatical speech, with complex sentence structure, at home from early childhood, they have absorbed an enormous amount of language preparation, which can’t be replicated in the classroom. Thus, when SES factors are held constant, it would be hard to find any difference in student performance by such a comparatively easy test as the MCAS.

  40. To emphasize a point that I think I could have stated more explicitly… it’s not just an issue of tracking the students correctly, but also tracking the teachers.
    Some teachers work great with low-end kids, some work great with high achievers, and so on.
    Unfortunately due to budget cuts and reassignment by seniority, I am not on the same tracked team I was last year and a middle school honors teacher was brought up to teach high school remedial science. Even she (who has done wonders with students at previously) is already admitting that she will not turn in the same results as I had last year.
    Most of the criticism of tracking centers around the teachers assigned to low=level classes. It seems that untracking is a really awkward attempt to fix this and the most effective fix would be to change how teachers are assigned.

  41. Lightly Seasoned;

    I’m not a classroom teacher, just a homeschooler. I do teach a high performer – oldest son, and a low performer – my younger son.

    By the by, unless you can produce data, your evidence is also hearsay.

  42. Stacy, I AM the data.

  43. Supersub, it’s my impression that the first year after a change of assignment is never as successful as the second year. As a parent, I have come to believe that stability is a great value for schools. The greatest havoc is wreaked when teachers’ assignments are changed willy-nilly, to meet changes in enrollment and/or new plans from the administration.

    This is an advantage for private schools and exam schools. They have a set enrollment number, which makes planning much easier than trying to meet wide swings in enrollment. They also don’t have to face new students mid-year.

    The report doesn’t touch on teacher quality, or ability. It’s considering those aspects of tracking which can be measured. Districts seem to answer the question of teacher assignment in different ways. Some districts place the strongest teachers with the strongest and the weakest sections.

  44. Lightly Seasoned,

    You are the anecdotes. I am the anecdotes. We’re all anecdotes now.

    And this is the reason why teachers struggle to teach low performers. Magical thinking.

  45. Teaching is always a struggle. It is always hard work. That has nothing to do with magical thinking.

    Two kids vs. well over a thousand (and counting). Okey dokey, then. I’ll keep that in mind.

  46. Well, nobody does as well as they’d like the first year with a prep. I think it takes 3 years to really get a course shaped up. For me, a lot of it is anticipating what the students will have difficulty with, fly through, etc. This year I’m teaching a course I’ve had for about 10 years — every day feels smooth as silk because I’ve designed and re-designed it to meet the needs of all the diverse learners I get every year. I also have a first year prep, and it feels just plain HARD every day because I’m always back-planning gaps, etc.

    Indeed some teachers are better with the advanced and some have a real gift for the low achievers. We want them to work with the groups they are most effective with. Many of us do fine with both and prefer the mix — many of the best schools assign their best teachers to both high and low groups. Jim Burke, pretty much as close to a rock star as we get in secondary English, teaches both the remedial groups and AP at his school.

    FWIW, differentiation is often misunderstood. It is not a way to accomodate huge ranges of learners on one classroom — there are very few of us talented enough to do that, and then not for long before burnout sets in. In fact, I do tons of differentiation in my AP courses, which are about as tracked as you get. I know I’m just an anecdote among many, but I have received some fairly intensive training over the past couple of years (far, far more than a sprinkling of PD sessions), and I’ve seen some real improvement in what my students — at all levels — are achieving. I cut my failure rate from 20% to 1% without changing a single assessment. We also pulled ourselves out of AYP trouble by increasing the number of students scoring proficient by over 40%. I don’t have any data to back up what I say, though.

  47. Tracking, tracking, and more tracking for ALL students.

  48. Lightly Seasoned,

    Because your professional teaching experience is everyones professional teaching experience, right? Except for all of the teachers who disagree with you here.

    Some educators have engaged in and will continue to engage in a great deal of magical thinking. The proof of which is the numerous “educational reforms” our public educational system have been subjected to with little or no real change in outcomes.
    Perhaps that why teaching for you and others is such a struggle?

    Well, I’m sure glad YOUR an expert, though. I guess all of our problems are over.

  49. Stacy: You’re.

  50. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Lovely. We’ve devolved into scoring cheap points for grammar.

    Seasoned… you’re getting the better of this argument. Why not be content with that?

    Moving back to the topic… I was thinking of something.

    There are at least two different things that go into making a high- or low- achieving student what he or she is, and those two things are:

    1) Ability
    2) Motivation

    Whether or not a particular teacher is going to want to teach a particular low-achieving and/or remedial class is going to be dependent, I think, upon whether or not the predominant shortcoming among the students is in (1) or (2).

    Teaching students who are in remedial classes because they are “less smart” (or challenged, or whatever they’re calling dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers these days) is a very different beast from teaching students who are in remedial classes because they don’t care.

    Some teachers don’t mind teaching dim kids, so long as there is an active learning process in play — however slow. Some teachers don’t mind having to be more motivational coach than sage.

    It would take a very special person to WANT to teach dim AND unmotivated kids, though I have seen with my own eyes that such people exist. I’m not one of them, but they do exist.

  51. Michael E. Lopez,

    They’re called special ed teachers and I thank god for many of them. But even they can fall into what Stacy calls “magical thinking.”

    Your last three paragraphs are really spot on. When everyone here says “slow learner” it looks like they mean different things.

    I’ve watched grade schools hand off the slow learners (some special ed, some just a little slower) to the newest and most inexperienced teachers. The veterans at my school often got the gifted. Right off the bat it gives the impression that teaching slower kids isn’t rewarding and will simply be a drag. Often it is when kid has a behavioral disorder, but the school offers no support.

    At the middle school, my special ed son was taught math lessons on many days by an aide who had not attended college. Across the hall, my gifted son was in math class with a teacher whose doctorate was in math. I wonder who got the better teaching.

    I’ve had veteran teacher friends tell me that they would lose their minds if they had to only teach the slower ones. As the parent of one such kid I can’t tell you had sad that makes me feel. But I would have felt the same, I suppose, if I hadn’t walked the walk as a parent.

    It can be rewarding to get a slacker motivated, but the child with the borderline IQ needs teachers to get excited about them and where they’re at academically, as well. These kids are facing frightening prospects since the government is resistant to help anyone who isn’t considered mentally retarded (70 and below).

    Yet most kids who reside in the murky 70 to 85 IQ range cannot compete in the labor market against people with higher IQs. Without a great deal of help from the family, they are extremely vulnerable in the world.

  52. Okay, somehow I got separated from the pack. Don’t quite know how that happened….

  53. Mike Curtis says:

    Mr. Lopez,

    You nailed it. There is no greater motivator for teachers than having students who want to learn. My favorite classes are high school general math students who want to win. The same subject attracts a fair share of disciplinary problems, recalcitrants and sociopaths of superior ability; but lower achievement. Give me ten special ed kids who try, over one apathetic genius any day.

  54. Interesting study. But where is the intersection between ‘no tracking’ and inclusion of student with disabilities? Rather than magical thinking, where’s the research on how such practices– adopted from the civil rights approach–actually affect teaching and learning for all students?

  55. Student of History says:

    Miriam,

    I worry that the amendments to the IDEA in 1997 to promote mainstreaming and access to the general curriculum became an excuse to water down and change the essential nature of math, science, and language arts instruction. Research into 1998 practices show just such recommendations and changes.

    In a detracked, mainstreamed classroom, don’t the limitations of some students become a barrier for all?

    Can we obtain equity and create justice by insisting classrooms must provide equal treatment of students who are academically very dissimilar?

  56. IDEA made the mistake of failing to distinguish between providing “access” to the curriculum, versus providing the opportunity to learn/master the curriculum. Many children with disabilities of different sorts can both access and master the grade-level curriculum for their age cohort; some can’t, and are not only having a distorting effect on regular classrooms but are also not being provided with the curriculum that will most effectively build their knowledge base and academic skills.

  57. Lightly Seasoned,

    Well, it is good to know you can teach grammar/usage. Too bad YOU’RE not that great at reading comprehension.

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  4. […] reports on dueling studies on the effects of tracking students.  While a Fordham study found that higher math scores in tracked middle schools, University of Colorado Education Professor Kevin Weiner says “the research doesn’t […]