June 9, 2013

Education fads: What goes around comes around

Back in 1972-1973, when I was a freshman in high school, the national high school debate topic was:
(1972–1973) Resolved: That governmental financial support for all public and secondary education in the United States be provided exclusively by the federal government

So, I've been following the social science of education ever since. A common pattern is for energetic, self-confident people who have made a bundle in other fields to decide one day that they are going to Fix the Schools and thus fund a lot of hoopla about the latest panacea. After awhile, they get depressed and bored and either go away or, in Bill Gates' case after he wasted two billion dollars on "small learning communities," they move on to some other cure-all.

Thus, there isn't much institutional memory in education. All the incentives are set up to flatter the latest messiah that everybody who came before him was an idiot.

Not surprisingly, with no incentives for remembering anything, there is a lot of hamster wheel churn in education policies. For example, tracking frequently gets denounced as racist, but then after a few years of not tracking, teachers and schools start it up again because it's clearly less stupid than the alternatives.

But, will anybody learn anything permanent from the latest failure of anti-tracking? How long until the next cycle in which civil rights lawyers make a killing suing school districts for disparate impact in tracking? Currently, the Obama Administration is persecuting school districts for disparate impact in suspensions, so it's only a matter of time.

From the New York Times:
Grouping Students by Ability Regains Favor in Classroom 
by Vivian Yee 
It was once common for elementary-school teachers to arrange their classrooms by ability, placing the highest-achieving students in one cluster, the lowest in another. But ability grouping and its close cousin, tracking, in which children take different classes based on their proficiency levels, fell out of favor in the late 1980s and the 1990s as critics charged that they perpetuated inequality by trapping poor and minority students in low-level groups. 
Now ability grouping has re-emerged in classrooms all over the country — a trend that has surprised education experts who believed the outcry had all but ended its use. 
A new analysis from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a Census-like agency for school statistics, shows that of the fourth-grade teachers surveyed, 71 percent said they had grouped students by reading ability in 2009, up from 28 percent in 1998. In math, 61 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported ability grouping in 2011, up from 40 percent in 1996. 
“These practices were essentially stigmatized,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who first noted the returning trend in a March report, and who has studied the grouping debate. “It’s kind of gone underground, it’s become less controversial.” 
The resurgence of ability grouping comes as New York City grapples with the state of its gifted and talented programs — a form of tracking in some public schools in which certain students, selected through testing, take accelerated classes together. 
These programs, which serve about 3 percent of the elementary school population, are dominated by white and Asian students. 
... Teachers and principals who use grouping say that the practice has become indispensable, helping them cope with widely varying levels of ability and achievement. 
When Jill Sears began teaching elementary school in New Hampshire 17 years ago, the second graders in her class showed up on the first day with a bewildering mix of strengths and weaknesses. Some children coasted through math worksheets in a few minutes, she said; others struggled to finish half a page. The swifter students, bored, would make mischief, while the slowest would become frustrated, give up and act out. 
“My instruction aimed at the middle of my class, and was leaving out approximately two-thirds of my learners,” said Ms. Sears, a fourth-grade teacher at Woodman Park Elementary in Dover, N.H. “I didn’t like those odds.” 
So she completely reorganized her classroom. About a decade ago, instead of teaching all her students as one group, she began ability grouping, teaching all groups the same material but tailoring activities and assignments to each group.
“I just knew that for me to have any sanity at the end of the day, I could just make these changes,” she said. 
While acknowledging that wide variation in classrooms poses a challenge, critics of grouping — including education researchers and civil rights groups — argued in the 1980s and 1990s that the practice inevitably divided students according to traits corresponding with achievement, like race and class. Some states began recommending that schools end grouping in the 1990s, amid concerns that teachers’ expectations for students were shaped by the initial groupings, confining students to rigid tracks and leading teachers to devote fewer resources to low-achieving students. 


Anonymous said...

Notice the name of the reporter permitted to deliver the good news.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting blog article about a study that extrapolates $250,000+ extra earnings resulting from teacher evaluation (Bill Gates current thing).


But, "First of all, the authors chose to graph only one age (28) at which there even was a statistically significant difference in the earnings of children with super awesome versus only average teachers!" And extrapolate a lifetime from that.

Harry Baldwin said...

The swifter students, bored, would make mischief, while the slowest would become frustrated, give up and act out.

Obligatory balance: the swift kids made trouble just like the slow ones, you see?

Anonymous said...

Obligatory balance: the swift kids made trouble just like the slow ones, you see?

I was swift and made trouble.

My nieces are very swift little hellions. You have to keep them busy and challenged every minute, or they will definitely be up to something.

Anonymous said...

Look what we've got here:


Eric said...

I was wondering when they would finally raise the white flag after decades of failure.

But let the lawsuits commence when someone notices the racial makeup of the different tracks in "diverse" schools.

Contaminated NEET said...

"Learners." What's wrong with the word "students?" I suppose it doesn't make idiots feel good about themselves when they say it.

dearieme said...

What's wrong with the word "students?"

What's wrong is that the correct word is |"pupils"; students go to college.

Anonymous said...

I was tracked every year of K-12 in multiple public schools in the midwest in the 80's and 90's.

At the beginning of first and sixth grade we were all given IQ type tests, complete with blocks and number recall, by a specialist who tested the students one-by-one.

Tracking was done it a nice way in elementary school, not "gifted" and "slow" but "blue group," "red group" etc.

Even in first grade reading and math were tracked, with slower children moved to a separate class room for a couple hours each day, for math, reading, or both.

The remaining children just physically rotated around a single classroom, with groups of 7-10 in front receiving direct instruction and the rest in the back expected to work on their own.

In middle school each grade was divided into two equal-sized fast and slow sub-schools, with only a small number of electives common to the whole grade, such as typing and music. Each subschool has multiple tracks within it. The "fast track" at the "slow school" was where the poorly behaved but smart boys were placed, so there was some overlap with the "fast school."

Finally in high school there were four to five levels of all the main classes each and every year, and further sub-tracking by allowing students to take classes for the grade above or below.

Anonymous said...

Student tracking also allows teacher specialization.

There is a pretty limited supply of people who are willing and able to teach AP calculus. Having them teach poor middle school students through Teach for America is not a good use of this limited resource.

Teachers whose skills are in short supply traditionally have been compensated flexibly by giving them certain perks rather than more money. The great sports coach is given a limited p/e teaching load, the great math teacher is given small classes of well-behaved students, the teacher who can handle a classroom full of the school's delinquents is awarded cushy overtime and summer school positions.

Trying to micromanage teachers by paying them differently because of student performance on tests is a good way to destroy a cooperative and egalitarian working environment and instead produce rent-seeking by teachers to game tests and student assignments. And teacher specialization becomes more difficult since the more diverse the abilities of each class, the more complicated it is to compare their progress each year.

Auntie Analogue said...

Another instance of "You're Not Supposed To Notice" blowing itself up, like a gag cigar load, in the face of the world's endless supply of Great Levellers.

No matter how many times the Great Levellers thrust their collective hand into the fire and pick up the message that flames hurt, they will repeat the motion ad infinitum.

Anonymous said...

Education fads = textbook sales

Textbook Sales Likely to Rise on New Rules


No e-anything or i-schooling here. Guttenberg's last stand is in public school.

Anonymous said...


white uncle tom

LemmusLemmus said...

"Obligatory balance: the swift kids made trouble just like the slow ones, you see?"

Yeah, that's total propaganda. Kids making mischief because they're bored? Such a thing has never been witnessed.

RWF said...

The best way to "fix" the education system would be to take the not so bright kids and teach them practical and vocational skills that make them somewhat employable.

Don't waste their time trying to teach calculus and then act surprised when they don't like school.

Despondent said...

Tracking in schools: BAD
Tracking every phone call, every movement by cell phone record: DOUBLEPLUSGOOD

Steve P said...

Nitpick: "awhile" does not mean the same as "a while".

Silver said...

Don't waste their time trying to teach calculus and then act surprised when they don't like school.

It also seems to develop a lifelong hatred of "learning" in people, which may be the most devastating long-term consequence of hbd-denial.

Even if people can't be "perfected" most people cease trying to improve well before they've realized their natural potential. Perhaps it would help matters to ask hbd-deniers if they are pleased to have this tragic phenomenon attributable to their ideological rigidity?

Absolom Humblebug said...

I say end the schools altogether. It's a dreadful way to educate people, to gather huge numbers of similarly aged young people into a room and demand they all learn the same thing at the same time. It is horrible preparation for real life, and it deprives students of the real benefits of being around adults. The whole model of modern school reeks of industrial revolution thinking, attempting to systemetize the process and remove the crucial factor of human relationships. Of all the education models it is the least effective, and incidentally the most expensive. Very rarely do the smart students help the slow students achieve; far more frequently the slower students drag down everyone else. Behavior and ability regress to the lowest common denominator. 90% of time in school is wasted time.

Anonymous said...

"It also seems to develop a lifelong hatred of "learning" in people, which may be the most devastating long-term consequence of hbd-denial. "

@Silver Interesting, probably true. Do you have a reference?
Robert Hume

Art Deco said...

A book on one aspect of this topic


and a bit of amusement.


The better part of a generation ago, Christopher Lasch wrote that his researches into 19th century literature led him to believe their was much concern that everyone acquire a 'competence' but little evidence of a concern with 'upward mobility. More than a generation ago, Christopher Jencks offered that schools were not the proper tool for equalitarian enterprises. Maybe someone will get the message.

The Dude said...

One of the fascinating things about modern leftism is its ability to reverse directions and claim diametrically opposed practices as evil.

For example, ability grouping is obviously racist and ableist since it separates people racially and based on abilities.

Of course, NON-grouping (the opposite) is also racist and ableist since minorities and Downs syndrome students do not thrive when they are dumped into a smartie class. Blacks and Downs would do so much better (it is then argued) if they had special classes addressed to their particular needs.

Likewise, white people are racist for not protecting black people in the ghetto [from other blacks], but when the police rise to the bait and start arresting black criminals who prey on their own people, they are deemed racist for arresting black criminals disproportionately.

Further, when banks do not give mortgages to ghetto blacks, they are guilty of racist "redlining". On the other hand when they do give mortgages and then foreclose on the deadbeats, they are guilty of racist "predatory lending practices".

Contra Steve, you don't even have to wait years for the institutional memories to fade.

In Criminal Law at Harvard Law School I heard Obama's peers argue in the same class session in the same classroom at the same time that police were racist for (1) not stopping crime in the ghetto, and (2) arresting too many black folks.

I realized then that I was in cloud-cuckoo land.

It's like a wife who whines that (1) you don't make enough money, (2) you spend too much time working, but (3) you can't move to get a better job because she would have to leave her family.

The solution for the wife is to keep spending money she doesn't have, piling up credit card debt.

The solution for anti-racist liberals is to set up ever-proliferating social programs, midnight basketball courts, and Geoffrey Canada-ish cradle-to-grave minders.

And the end game is the same: financial collapse and bankruptcy.

a Newsreader said...

Contaminated NEET said...

"Learners." What's wrong with the word "students?" I suppose it doesn't make idiots feel good about themselves when they say it.

6/9/13, 9:56 PM

dearieme said...

What's wrong with the word "students?"

What's wrong is that the correct word is |"pupils"; students go to college.

6/9/13, 10:24 PM

The correct term is Dreamers, you racists!

Absolom Humblebug said...

The Dude, I have never seen such a foul bundle of hatefacts wrapped in the twine of shameless hatethink in my life. If you keep noticing differences and patterns and thinking and stuff, you will very likely be permanently cast out of the DC metro area. And what kind of future will you have then?

Hunsdon said...

We have always been at war with Eastasia.

Steve Sailer said...

That's a good one, Hunsdon, because it points out that Orwell didn't just fear the propaganda of totalitarian states, he was annoyed at the public not being able to remember anything. Orwell had a talent for being annoyed.

Dan Kurt said...

re: "My nieces are very swift little hellions. You have to keep them busy and challenged every minute, or they will definitely be up to something." Anon

The nuns who taught me during the '50s had a saying: An idle mind is the Devil's workshop. They ran classes of 70+ students solo. Students were a spectrum of abilities but they all were given enough buisywork to keep each one occupied constantly it seemed. The smart had their tasks as did the others as per their talents. The nuns also didn't BS the dumb ones by telling them that they could be A level students. The stick across the palm oiled the waters.

Dan Kurt

Anonymous said...

@The Dude

Fundamentally, leftism is about attacking the institutions of the West, via methods such as (so-called) critical theory.

Contradictions don't inherently matter; the goal is to destabilize, undermine and destroy.

carol said...

The stick across the palm oiled the waters.

Sadly, that memory became one of the many lame excuses for leaving the Church entirely in the 60s.

But, yeah, even public school seemed like heaven back then. I don't remember any kid acting out... only one time, did a teacher upbraid a classmate, who was drawing cartoons at his desk and not paying attention. Pretty mild stuff by today's standing.

Oh, and I found out later my schools were half Mexican. There was no way of knowing because of the tracking.

Harry Baldwin said...

LemmusLemmus said...Yeah, that's total propaganda. Kids making mischief because they're bored? Such a thing has never been witnessed.

Do you think the mischief caused by smart, bored kids is comparable to the trouble caused by stupid, angry kids? I believe the latter is what drives teachers in urban schools out of the profession. But maybe I'm wrong.

tony lazzeri said...

Not that it matters, but is what that teacher said really believable? If the zeitgeist is against tracking, wouldn't a teacher face discipline for instituting it unilaterally? Even assuming you could get away with it, isn't tracking about separate classes? Is it really workable within a single classroom? Maya?

Anonymous said...

Teachers are fired when pupils don't pass low level tests.

They aren't fired if high level pupils don't pass high level tests.

r. daneel goatweed

estes kefauver said...

In Criminal Law at Harvard Law School I heard ... that police were racist for (1) not stopping crime in the ghetto, and (2) arresting too many black folks.

But the fact that the focus of discussion became politics/sociology/criminology itself means the professor was willing to have his class hijacked and was too much the pussy to speak plainly to blacks. Criminal law is a fascinating subject that needn't have anything whatsoever to do with the police.
So this was proof of Harvey Mansfield's point (blacks dragging down Harvard's standards.)

Anonymous said...

"Kids making mischief because they're bored? Such a thing has never been witnessed."

You can always find exceptions, but the bright kids mischief and the not so bright ones mischief tend to be qualitatively different.

jody said...

my public school district began tracking in 5th grade for math and by 7th grade it permanently separated the students into 3 tracks for all subjects. they did this all the way through the 90s. it also had a separate program for all students with an IQ of 140 or higher, which i mentioned before. it also had a separate program for all learning disabled students. class sizes were about 400 when i graduated in the 90s, although they had been 600 in the 60s through the 80s, before people starting having less kids.

i'm not sure if the school district ever abandoned tracking, but they did abandon valedictorians by the late 90s. at first they decided to have several valedictorians for every graduating high school class. then a few years ago they decided to eliminate that title completely, so that no graduating class ever has a valedictorian.

i'm not sure they retained the program for the high IQ students. probably, because it was small and not very expensive, but the demographics of the town have declined, so it's not clear they need that program anymore, especially after the research plant in town closed 10 years ago, leading the town to lose all it's high IQ jobs and all the families that went with it. they have been replaced with africans moving out of the city.

that change, from high IQ job seekers who used to come in from out of state and needed a school to stick their kids, but now are all gone, and the spread of city dwellers out into the suburbs, who are given housing by HUD, has made the tax base decline enough that the high school began cutting programs a few years ago.

omniously, they ADDED an english language learner program, to accomodate all the vibrant new international immigrants. the local paper makes that classroom look like the US diversity lottery whenever it does report on that new program. probably because, it IS due to the US diversity lottery. random low IQ brown people from 30 different nations somehow showing up in pennsylvania. not thousands, but enough that the school district had to add a program for them. totally useless students, obviously. their main function is to take up tax dollars teaching them english. aside from that they are basically not learning anything that is taught in high school.

this high school was a DOE federal blue ribbon award winner in the 90s - it had the most national merit scholars in pennsylvania the year i graduated - and has declined greatly since then.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the news I recently read of a new College Board study(the people behind the SAT exam) who are trying to investigate closer the large pool of high-scoring, usually low-middle to working-class students who end up not applying to the Ivies.

Hint: the group is over 80% white and 15% Asian.

We already know this. The problem is that if you go for strict class performance, the diversity of American collges would fall drastically and high-achieveing WASPs would rise in numbers - which would be greeted with total outrage.

And then quickly backtracked. This strikes me as a similar phenomenom.

anonyias said...

I had tracking all all throughout school. In elementary school gifted students were removed from regular classes a certain amount of time per week, where we mainly worked on "enrichment" activities. They must have had a pretty broad definition of gifted because around 15 percent of the kids qualified. In middle school a middle track called "advanced" was introduced. Regular courses were in actuality remedial courses.

Similar story in high school, only then students choose the track they want instead of the counselor choosing for them. Three tracks: AP, "college prep", and regular. Again, the college prep courses were in actuality for the average kids, and the regular courses were for the dummies.

Where I work they are attempting to get rid of the middle track, basically combining the dumb students with the average ones. This will only hurt the average students.

anonyias said...

"The correct term is Dreamers, you racists!"

Hah- you want to talk about misapplication of language, go check out the cheesy names of some charter schools. Crap like "Success Academy" or "Children of Promise Preparatory Academy"

Anonymous said...

The Mary Seacole City Academy for Advanced Textspeak and Stabbing.

Not mine, Rod Liddle made that one up.

Sword said...

This same article was written about in the democrat-loving website Slate.

It is interesting and heartening that a lot of the commentors were in favor of tracking, and only a small minority were against it.

When one commentor asked why there was not more of it, another answered: race. One-word response - and so far, the censors have not deleted it.

Anonymous said...

White America is striving to make Lake Wobegone a reality, where all fair kids are above the multi average. If your kid is below the level of skilled-trade intelligence, better teach him jive or Spanish because he will not be living in a community of whites. Educational trends and theories don't matter, those with academic dispositions own the foreseeable future. If you are born in the USA and don't have a college degree, it is almost certain that you are non-academic, and if you are white, you should consider this before having children - it is not likely that your children will cherish riding a hard plastic chair for sixteen to twenty years, before entering a career where they will ride a cushioned one for another forty. Fredo Corleones are more pathetic and lonely now than ever.