Thursday, February 23, 2006

Multi-Age but... Homogenous?

The Northern Wells Community School Board in Bluffton, Indiana (east central part of the state) has encountered a fascinating paradox. The local school had several multi-age classrooms (ie, second and third graders share a teacher). Yet the school board canceled the program because the powers that be worried that such a multi-age program was creating homogeneous classrooms. You can read about this puzzler in the News-Banner here.

It's no secret that high-achieving kids (and their families) tend to like multi-age classrooms. Teachers know there will be a wider range of abilities, and so plan for some kids to be more advanced than others. Kids in the lower grades can work ahead at the higher grade level -- or even skip to the higher grade -- with no awkwardness. Since parents could request placement in multi-age classrooms, the school board determined that just about all of the school's high-achieving kids were in the multi-age classes. That meant they weren't in the single age classes. Voila -- homogeneous grouping by default. And the Northern Wells School Board wasn't going to stand for that.

This is a frustrating story in many ways. According to the article, school principal Steve Darnell seemed to determine to shut down the program, claiming “It wasn’t the program that created the success stories, it was the positive interaction between the students, parents and teachers that created that memory for the child.” He stated that the staff wanted heterogeneous grouping by ability -- but apparently not by age -- and that gifted students were already being served through other programs. He also blamed No Child Left Behind, saying it requires schools to hold children accountable by grade, and so it was administratively difficult to do that in multi-age classrooms. He said that many other schools with multi-age programs cut them for just that reason.

Has anyone else experienced this in their school systems? Is NCLB really leading to the demise of the few multi-age programs out there, or did this school system just not like the idea that high-achieving kids got clustered in one class?

5 comments:

Quiltsrwarm said...

Interesting... I never thought that NCLB would contribute to such a downfall in the education of our gifted children -- in a program that already existed pre-NCLB, anyway. I'm beginning to think that rather than actually being the source of problems, NCLB has become the straw-man for the problems facing our education system, problems that existed way before NCLB...

In our own district, a year ago, before we made the decision to homeschool our gifted children, I had laid out what I thought was a sound plan for gifted classrooms. I determined there was enough gifteds in each grade level to fill one classroom for each grade. So, take one physical classroom, fill it with the gifteds for those grades, and staff each with a gifted-certified teacher already on staff for that grade level. No new classrooms to build, no new staff-members to hire -- just re-organize the classrooms to concentrate the gifteds and make the whole situation more managable on a day-to-day basis (eliminate the ineffective once-per-week Talented-and-Gifted programming in the process). All buildings in our school district are also located on a single campus -- all grade levels easily accessible -- so accelleration (or even decelleration in some cases of asynchronus development) shouldn't be a problem. Seems like a no-brainer to me, but...

To make a long story short, the plan I had come up with, which was supported by the gifted coordinator and the curriculum coordinator in our district, was apparently put-down by upper-admins for some unspoken reason. This inability to be pro-active toward the needs of a rather large population of gifted children in our district was a primary reason for our decision to homeschool.

Was the admin's decision based on NCLB or on that myth that we can't have gifteds clustered in their own classrooms because it might be construed as elitist? I personally think school district admins are uncomfortable with the idea of ability grouping because of the whole "self-esteem issue" for all the other kids. If admins and teachers were so worried about self-esteem, they'd wholy support the idea of gifted clustering. Nearly a year after removing my children and I STILL have to deal with the self-esteem issues of my oldest child resulting from poor curriculum decisions at her school...

My 2cts worth...

Anonymous said...

We have a multi-age class for 13 students in grades K-5 with 2 teachers. So far we haven't had administration pressure, but kids test at their grade level on standardized tests (even though some are working several grades above in one or more subjects). There is more resistance to grade-skipping--I think because those who qualify to skip would score well on their grade level test, but getting proficiency in all areas for those who skip one or more grades is riskier. The multi-grade environment has been very beneficial for my 3 boys and fosters flexibility so that each child can work at their ability level, but the transition to middle school is less than perfect. There they are offered honors classes with other gifted or high achieving students, but they are really one or two grade levels beyond this.

Brian said...

We had a multiage program for 2-5th graders for about four years in my building. There was a high percentage of gifted kids in the program, and it was a great success, until the principal who started the program left for another position. The new principal wasn't very supportive of the program, and it was gone after his first year. (To his defense, many of the teachers had taken other positions by then, due to our rapidly-growing district.)

I think one reason the program died was because it was seen as "elitist." The multiage classes seemed to get all the attention and did the "coolest" activities.

Cyndi & Crew said...

My daughter is in a multiage classroom... she'll spend grades 1-3 in a 'pod' with four teachers. It's very popular at our school and I've heard no noises about it being eliminated, but instead that there may be additional MAG classrooms in the future.

giftededucationPLEASE! said...

Being in a family of gifteds, I feel that my opinion counts just as much as everyone's! In my opinion, the "No Child Left Behind" act has turned into the "No Child Gets Ahead." Crazy right? Homeschooling is the best alterative for gifted children. Period. If in public schools, talk convincingly to the schoolboard about getting a system in place for gifted education. Don't give into the idea that ONE SIZE FITS ALL in the case of your education.