Educating high and low achievers in the same classroom

Source: Education Next, Winter 2011

In another study for the Fordham Institute, Loveless found a clear pattern in the late 1990s when states adopted accountability regimes: the performance of the lowest decile of students shot up, while the achievement of the top 10 percent of students stagnated. That’s not surprising; these accountability systems, like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002, pushed schools to get more students over a low performance bar. They provided few incentives to accelerate the academic growth of students at the top.

Yet in recent years, the “peer effects” literature has shown the benefits of grouping students of similar abilities together.

Technology may someday alleviate the need for such compromises. With the advent of powerful online learning tools, such as those on display in New York City’s School of One, students might be able to receive instruction that’s truly individualized to their own needs—differentiation on steroids.

Perhaps. But until that time, our schools will have to wrestle with the age-old tension between “excellence” and “equity.” And that tension will be resolved one homogeneous or heterogeneous classroom at a time.


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