Sometimes it's good to be reminded that not everyone views the world the way I do. I am saying that, because that is the only positive point I see coming out of the tone of a story called The End Of The Stupid Class, which ran at Voice of San Diego recently.
The piece documents a detracking effort by Correia Middle School in Point Loma, CA. The author, Emily Alpert, starts from the assumption that this is a good thing because ability grouping (or as I like to call it, readiness grouping) "tends to help kids at the top and hurt those at the bottom." (That's the summary of the article in "The Big Picture" section on the left side of the page). So clearly, we wouldn't want to help kids at the top. And she quotes kids talking about things slowing down, and mentions that fewer kids are scoring in the top levels on the 7th grade math exams. But she quickly rushes past that and quotes other people talking about how gifted kids thought there should only be white kids in their classes and hence now this is better.
In other words, anyone who believes in readiness grouping is racist. Get it?
After your head stops spinning when you read the article, it's time to take a more sober look at the concept. In general, detracking is very hard to make work. If you have a school of extremely gifted teachers (that is, you've managed to ability group to get your staff to all be much better than average), sometimes it can go all right. But if you have a school of extremely gifted teachers, anything you do will be fine. In general, teachers have an easier time of instructing kids who are relatively close in terms of their preparation.
I don't want to completely smack Correia, as it sounds like there is still some tracking for extremely gifted learners, as well as students with special needs. In general, it's better to have a smaller, more targeted gifted program than a huge one that ropes in students who just happen to score in the top 25%. And if students were ever calling classes the "stupid class" then it sounds like many of the folks involved in the school needed an attitude adjustment. But the way this article is written just totally misses the point. Gifted education is not a reward for white children and a way of punishing kids by putting them in the "stupid class." It's an educational intervention for children who need it. Maybe if we keep saying that often enough, the message will get through.