It’s not cool to try in non-honors class

High school juniors in non-honors classes are less likely to sign up for a free SAT prep class if their classmates will know about it than if their decision is private, concludes a working paper, How Does Peer Pressure Affect Educational Investments?  Asked in an honors class, 11th graders are more likely to sign up for SAT prep if their decision was public.

The study was conducted at low-performing, low-income high schools in Los Angeles, notes Max Nisen in The Atlantic. “Visible effort” can lower a student’s popularity, say researchers.

Peer pressure was especially powerful for students taking two honors and two or more non-honors classes. “In that case, the students presented with the choice to sign up in the honors class were 25 percent more likely to do so if the decision was public,” writes Nisen. “Those who were in a non-honors class were 25 percent less likely to sign up.”

Beyond tracking

To eliminate bad tracking — dumping some kids in dead-end classes — reformers have eliminated honors classes and dumped “all agemates in the same class” regardless of their preparedness, writes Mike Petrilli on Education Gadfly. He hopes to get beyond tracking by customizing instruction.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist—or even a cognitive scientist—to know that kids (and adults) learn best when presented with material that is challenging—neither too easy so as to be boring nor too hard as to be overwhelming. Like Goldilocks, we want it just right. Grouping kids so that instruction can be more closely targeted to their current ability levels helps make teaching and learning more efficient.

Online-learning technologies and more targeted assessments should enable schools to “pinpoint exactly what students know and serve up instruction that meets them there,” Petrilli writes.

At School of One, a middle school math program in New York City, students are placed in specific learning modules based on their performance the previous day, and on a sophisticated algorithm. Some kids are sent to small-group instruction with similarly-abled peers; others head to one-on-one online tutoring; others work independently on a computer; others get more traditional classroom instruction. It’s all customized to match the students’ needs and abilities. (Read more about School of One and other models of individualized instruction in this excellent Education Next article.)

Teachers are struggling to “differentiate instruction” to meet the needs of students with a wide range of abilities and disabilities, performance levels and English fluency. Half the teachers in high-need schools say they’re not able to do it well, according to the MetLife survey. I think this is a major cause of teacher burn-out.