Teachers struggle to aid ‘diverse learners’

Ninety-one percent of public school teachers say schools need to do more to prepare “diverse” learners for success after high school, according to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.  A majority said this should be one of schools’ highest priorities, notes Ed Week.

Fifty-seven percent of parents agreed, but only 31 percent of business executives surveyed said teaching diverse learners was a priority.

Asked in the current survey to identify specific resources or initiatives that would have a “major impact” on their abilities to address students’ varied learning needs, the teachers most consistently pointed to opportunities for collaborative instruction (65 percent); access to interactive, personalized learning programs (64 percent); better tools for understanding students learning strengths and needs (63 percent); and instructional strategies for working with English-language learners (62 percent).

In the 2008 survey, almost half of teachers said the “learning abilities of their students were so varied that they didn’t feel they could teach them effectively.”

In the new survey, 61 percent of the teachers said they can differentiate instruction to address their students’ diverse learning abilities. But only 46 percent of math teachers and 50 percent of teachers in schools that send few graduates to college said they were able to differentiate effectively.

Successful students say their teachers do a good job of meeting students’ different needs and abilities. But those with the greatest needs are the least satisfied.

Students who have considered dropping out of school or who do not expect to go beyond high school, however, tended to give their instructors much lower grades in this area.

. . . The survey found that, among students with diverse learning needs, low income students and students who had been told by a teacher or other adult that they have a learning problem or disabilities were the least likely say their needs are being well-served by their schools.

Teachers, parents and business leaders agree that all students should be prepared for college, according to part one of the survey. However, college readiness is a higher priority for parents than for teachers and executives.

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  1. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    What a load of $#!t.

    “diverse learners”—defined as students with low-income status, limited fluency in English, or learning disabilities

    Sounds like they’re all the same. Nothing diverse about them.

  2. wahoofive says:

    It’s an age-old struggle: do we gear our education system to allow the future engineers to accomplish as much as possible, or to maximize the progress of the slowest students? It’s obvious which “business executives” want.

    In fact, surveying business executives is a waste of time. Lots of students will never get jobs with big businesses — stay-at-home moms, for example — but we might care about their educations as well.

    All this talk about “differentiating” instruction is strictly the old question about tracking. It’s very easy to analyze: smart students do better when students are grouped by ability, so they aren’t slowed down by slower students. But slow students do better in mixed classes, not dumped in with a classroom full of all dummies. Which group is your priority? For all the sturm und drang about NCLB, at least it set a clear priority.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Speaking from an evolutionary viewpoint, where did different learning styles come from?
    Got to be a matter of indifferent socialization. Which can be unlearned. That might be separated from the conventional educational process.

  4. When did “diverse learners” become a problem in American schools? I bet it is right around the time schools stopped tracking students by ability.

  5. That’s not a question; it’s a definition. The whole point of ending tracking was to diversify the classroom.

    Keep in mind that “differentiation” means “figuring out how to teach Hamlet and literature analysis to a kid with 4th grade reading skills” or “teaching multiplication facts to kids in an algebra class”.

  6. In this case “diversity” means trying to teach 7th grade to a class halfway made up of students who should never have been allowed out of 3rd.

    These students, moreover, have had it demonstrated to them that they can simply do as little as they want and still be passed on. They have no concept of how far behind they really are. They won’t even start to hit the brick wall until high school – the first time any of them will actually encounter a point at which they must actually pass or simply not move on. Even then, many of them will believe that they are simply being passed on until it’s too late.

    Dropout factories aren’t high schools. They’re the lower grades without the intestinal fortitude (or authority) to tell kids that they must actually learn something in order to advance. After all, grades are a lot easier to track than learning.

  7. tim-10-ber says:

    Thank you Obi-Wandreas — very, very well said!

  8. 61% of teachers think that they can “differentiate”. Ha! There’s a lot of lip service paid to the notion, but little in the way of actual success in challenging smart kids in heterogeneous classes.

  9. As with the ‘inclusion’ movement in special education, the ‘diverse learners’ movement seems to be designed for adults to feel good–not for kids to learn more. Instead, we need to put ‘what works’ at the top–‘what works’ for different students. It’s clearly not the same method or movement.

  10. tim-10-ber says:

    Yep — mainstreaming hurts those that want to learn as does differentiated learning. Both are a joke. I understand that kids that have challenges or are slower learners can truly benefit from the higher achieving kids, but it is at the expense of the higher achieving kids…why is this right? Oh yeah, because education is a one size fits all game…everyone goes to the lowest common denominator…nope. Home schooling or private schooling for my grandkids kids…we played these games in government schools and ended up in private schools…

  11. Roger Sweeny says:

    But slow students do better in mixed classes


    Slow students in mixed classes have to read things that are above the level they are comfortable with. They are expected to write things that are more complicated than they can muster. They must do math that they didn’t “get” earlier on and don’t get now.

    It would be wonderful if they rose to the challenge and made exceptional progress but mostly they get discouraged and fall further behind. Putting slow students in a classroom with fast students is a cruel joke on the slower students. The fact that people who do it mean well only shows that good intentions are no substitute for looking reality in the face.

  12. A French Teacher says:

    I agree with Mr. Sweeny. In my differentiated classroom my brightest students are bored and my special ed. students are frustrated. Another problem is delivering different assignments to students as they ask, “Why does he get to use a dictionary?… Why is she not doing the grammar? Why do I have to do a longer reading assignment?” etc. They are hyper-concerned with fairness, and demand explanations that I am not able to give them.

  13. SuperSub says:

    “But slow students do better in mixed classes”

    And this is likely because they are more likely to be assigned a teacher who knows what they are doing as opposed to a brand new, burnt out, or waste of space teacher. Slow students in a homogeneous classroom with a good teacher can do well.

  14. “Slow students in a homogeneous classroom with a good teacher can do well.”

    Perhaps, but at what cost? How do the advanced and on track students do?

    Oh I forgot, there are perfect teachers out there that can teach a class of 37 students with special ed, gifted, unmotivated and unruly kids and raise all of their test scores.

    All the rest of us should quit to make room for all of those people who would make perfect teachers that are struggling to find teaching jobs.

  15. Sean Mays says:

    This model isn’t perfect, but think of it this way; by way of analogy One standard deviation in IQ translates roughly into a double / halving of “horsepower” , if I recall my gifted ed literature correctly (it’s rough, I know). So in a heterogeneous / mixed classroom, you might have kids +2 sigman and -1 sigma. We’re seriously claiming here (especially at the high school level) that we can accomodate an 8 fold difference in capacity? That’s like comparing a top of the line Pentium 4 to a median i5 – there are just some things the P4 is going to choke on. You can add depth and projects and such, but really, if we’re talking about a course, let’s say high school math, do most people accept that we can span that range given the requirements of seat time? Hours in a seat stinks as a system, but it’s what we use and I don’t believe differentiation will solve the problems a typical teacher may face.

    Now, if I could compact a curriculum and award credit for units of work completed, rather than time in the seat, sure. Johnny might spend a year in my class and pick up a credit for standard Algebra. Jane might spend a year with me and get Honors Algebra and Honors Geometry. Doing that in a typical class of 30?? Dubious.

  16. i totally agreed with gahrie
    “When did “diverse learners” become a problem in American schools? I bet it is right around the time schools stopped tracking students by ability” .

  17. That was also the point at which the idea that all kids should behave properly was tossed out of the window, in favor of self-expression. Poor behavior from minorities was specifically excused, on “civil rights” grounds. That was also the time frame of de-institutionalization of the cognitively/emotionally handicapped, who entered the public schools for the first time.