In the 2 years of participating in KTM, I have come to the conclusion that differentiated instruction is gravest of all of the myriad problems in K-12 today.
In a world where Paul B has one classroom of 7th graders whose current proximal development covers a 9 YEAR spread (from 3rd to 11th grade), where PalisadesK says her secondary school is in crisis because numbers of kids who are entering 9th grade don't even register as having 4th grade math, it seems clear that nothing can be fixed without grouping by ZPD/ability/whatever you want to call it.
Parents do not know that this is happening. They have no idea that all of that lip service about "teaching to students with stages of development in different learning styles" is meant to paper over 9 YEAR disparities, that children could be entering high school already 6 YEARS behind.
If parents--no, if people-- did know, I believe they would be in uproar. This may be the only place where the bulk of parents and nonparents would agree.
So how can we crack this nut? It isn't top down; there is no chance of changing the essentially mandated differentiated instruction from the top of the ed school chain, or from the top of the superintendent's chains in nearly any districts. There are many many forces leading to differentiated instruction in order to create "inclusion", "diversity" and a whole bunch of other feel-good social goals from the top. The bigger powers that be, politicos at the state level and the like probably also have no idea how much of crisis this is, because again, they don't see what's happening in an individual classroom. They know only about the means and medians of achievement gap; they don't know that that achievement gap translates into more than half a decade of dispersion in a 7th grade classroom.
The only chance that I see is to crack it open by going directly to the people.
A documentary that interviewed actual middle school teachers, who would speak honestly about the disparity of skill/ability/proximal development in their individual rooms (NOT at the school level, or district level, but IN THEIR ROOMS), that showed the desperation of good teachers trying to teach curricula across a 3, 5, 7, year gap, might be huge.
Especially if the documentary could show it across the country: a national problem in EVERY STATE. Schools where 20k per pupil spending by the district and those with 8k, etc.
The documentary should be done by some creative, hip, young film maker, not a policy wonk, who could get teachers telling the story themselves, not using statistics or analysis of data, viewable on the web, or in short bursts (or given to Andrew Breitbart.)
I don't mean to imply that ending differentiated instruction will suddenly bring 7th graders 5 years up in a year. But none of those problems can possibly be solved inside the group delusion that is the differentiated instruction classroom. Yes, bad curricula will still need fixing. But you can't make Singapore Math 7A work in Paul's classroom, either.
Well, what do you all think?