The ink was hardly dry on a column about the disadvantages of grouping in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) when the Washington Post drew attention to grouping, also known as differentiated instruction, at Galway Elementary School in Silver Spring.
The Post paints a beautiful picture of the new grouping paradigm implemented by MCPS. However, certain pertinent facts are notably absent from the reporter’s beautiful portrait. For example, the reporter fails to mention that Galway is less than five-percent white and less than five-percent Asian. According to statistics available on the MCPS website, more than fifty seven-percent of the children qualify for free and reduced price meals (FARMS), an accepted measure of poverty. More than sixty three-percent of students now, or have in the past received FARMS.
The school, according to MCPS statistics, has a predominantly minority, FARMS, homogeneous population (23% Hispanic, 57% black). According to the Post, even within this relatively homogeneous school there are multiple levels of preparation, at least three in the classroom that is the subject of the Post article. Even then, according to the Post, the teacher is struggling to challenge them all.
Another serious omission from the Post portrait is the reality that there are apparently multiple classrooms at every grade level. For example, Kindergarten seems to have six, first-grade has seven, as does second. Third and fourth-grade have five classrooms each, and fifth has but four.
It raises a very basic question in any educators mind. Why not implement grouping by classroom for every grade? For example, with seven teachers, first grade can implement seven classrooms, each dedicated to addressing the needs of a homogenous group, by ability and preparedness of students.
That brings us to a third omission from the Post article, the elephant in the room if you will: race. The argument against grouping by ability in separate classrooms is that it is tantamount to tracking. The loaded term, with vestiges of meaning from days gone by, promptly conjures rigid, lifelong separation of students, by perceived ability.
However, the reality is that homogeneous classrooms can be implemented with the same degree of flexibility associated with the grouping within a classroom. For example, one could have three separate first grade classrooms corresponding to each of the levels seen in the groups that the Post described. Students can move between classrooms based on the same criteria that allowed them to move between groups.
The advantages of classroom grouping are enormous. It allows each teacher to focus on the needs of a group of students with little or no variation in ability and preparedness. Furthermore, it decreases the stress and demands on our young teachers. The expediency of political correctness, one can argue, has led to our teachers and our children being shortchanged.