I am a strong supporter of the public schools and opposed to the “reform” movement attempting to privatize education. I didn’t find your article divisive. But, I do have a question that keeps coming up for me about some of the reasons why charters gain traction.

Charters benefit from the real and perceived impact of heterogeneous grouping upon the achievement of more prepared students. Similarly, they score points because public schools are less able to address and remove disruptive children. For these reasons, a diverse district with students from all socio-economic backgrounds is at risk for charter take over.

We complain that charters are skimming the top, we have to take all comers and we can’t cherrypick; we can’t dump the least school ready students. We wear it as a badge of honor; we’re a force for egalitarian education for all. We’re a place where all children come together to learn. Well, that’s great.

BUT… a parent who wants to limit negative influences or increase challenge of instruction may not care about the general mission if the impact of that mission upon their child is negative. I’m not sure we can stem the tide of charters when we use middle class children as social equalizers and consider the annual limitation upon their achievement and growth as an acceptable loss. That’s an insufficient mission. This makes public school less desirable for parents who have prepared, able children.

I understand why these parents want to flee classrooms when the books are two or three levels below grade and their children are rarely challenged in the school day. And, I understand why they get tired of being told that every need is met with skilled teachers who can differentiate. It’s not true. Differentiation is frequently insufficient in classrooms where the range of student skill base goes from 2nd grade to post high school.

If we are going to meet the challenges posed by privatizers, we need to look at what we’re doing with a clear eye. Research shows that the positive impact of heterogeneous grouping is on the social development for lower income students. It is a benefit.

In my experience, most students in a well constructed, heterogeneous classroom, headed by a teacher who is skilled share a common positive culture that makes it possible for students who might otherwise have few positive role models to grow. It has been my experience that a middle of the pack student will make academic gains if they are in a class that is challenging, but not too challenging.

However, it is also my experience that the lowest skill level student makes no progress in a heterogeneous setting and would benefit more from a homogeneous, small class with more focused and direct instruction. It is my experience that the middle top and top does not receive academic benefit from heterogeneous instruction. I don’t know of any study of heterogeneous grouping that shows a positive academic impact on above average students.

But, I do know that a homogeneous class of top of the middle and top students will make significant progress each year. We need to look at how to really challenge all of our students if we are going to compete with charters and private schools. We need to be willing to consider the cost of chronically disruptive students upon the efficacy of the regular classroom and the lack of alternatives for students to run their own race in our schools.

I don’t know what the answer is, but 25+ kids each period wait upon our ability to figure out what to do. If we don’t come up with solutions in the traditional public school setting, parents are going to opt out.