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?