kitchen table math, the sequel: Targeting Differentiated Instruction

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Targeting Differentiated Instruction

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?


OrangeMath said...

I equipped my (10-12) high school classroom with low cost computers (Ncomputing) and licenses from,, and I use the free (Essential Math) to assess students. Weak ones (2nd-5th grade) take Smartmath or IXL. Better ones (6th-7th grade) use ALEKS. The ones at "grade level" (actually two years behind) take Algebra. Ya gotta take 'em where they are and build up, not plug in standards without a base. It is what it is, and it ain't pretty policy.

Other teachers fail 1/2 their students. It's this way EVERYWHERE. For example, in Summer School, another teacher and myself taught Geometry. We both started with 38 students. 14 of his were left after 24 days, 36 of mine. On the other hand, his 14 probably learned more than my "top" 14. He is a good teacher.

Rule-Utilitarian policy does not work. It either fails real people, or satisfies the dreams of those who don't teach. Think of all of the dropout prevention programs that are being run to keep this second group mollified. Still, my students won't be wonderful STEM workers. In math, there are problems without solutions. This may be one. An Act-Utilitarian approach works far better when teaching math to struggling students.

This isn't a video, but for the first time in years my students are smiling and working; not incessantly goofing in the back of a room. They are catching up, but they all run out of time.

ElizabethB said...

Yes, we need that movie.

Also, a movie showing how many children can read fake leveled readers but not real books with actual phonetic words in them.

Mary Johnson did this with her two sentence test in Canada:

So I had groups of children — not especially selected — read two kinds of sentences. They would read a sentence from a school reader, which they could read fluently and easily without mistakes. Then they would read a similar sentence which was not any harder. (Editor’s note: All Mary had done was to change a few consonants in some short, simple words. Children who learn to read with the sight word-first approach are supposed to utilize ‘consonant substitution, aren’t they? )

If you looked at the second sentence, it looked most innocuous. ‘BUT’, the second sentence would have words which they had not memorized, and on the tape recording, this was devastating.

On the tape you could hear a child whip through the first sentence, and then on the second sentence he would say, “I haven’t had that word, I don’t know. It looks like. ...” and you would hear the groan and sighs and it was awful.

People told me later they heard this over the radio while they were driving their car down a busy street and almost had an accident because they were so utterly horrified. People were convinced, permanently convinced, once they heard the tape. That was all it took.

SteveH said...

I'll be picky and say that the problem is not differentiated instruction, but full inclusion. That's the main driving force in our area. Differentiated instruction is just their way to try and get this to work. It doesn't work and they know it, but they are stuck. They can't get rid of full inclusion, so they keep trying to make it work. They didn't start with differentiated instruction and then decide that it allowed full-inclusion.

By seventh grade, the dam breaks and they are forced to separate kids in at least foreign language and math. That's a big cause for the non-linear jump required of students to prepare for the honors track in high school. Many students, especially those not supported at home, are left in the dust. By then, it's easy to blame the kids. So schools just pump kids along (they don't like filters) and then point to those kids who do succeed.

In other areas, it may just be social promotion run amok. I'm not sure why this has gotten so much traction over the years. It seems like schools just have an aversion to accountability.

When I was growing up, the lowest ability kids were sent elsewhere and the attitude was sink or swim. If you didn't do well in school, you were faced with summer school or being held back a year. There is a lot to not like about this setup, but what is the alternative? What does that alternative mean to those kids who are willing and able to do the work?

Without social promotion, the school puts pressure on kids and their parents each year. There are no escape clauses. Problems are more likely to be dealt with right away rather than swept under the rug. With social promotion, it's a win-win situation for schools. They push the entire problem onto kids and parents and then blame them when the big filter hits in junior high or high school. Problems are ignored rather than solved. If kids don't learn, they might not have any idea why and there is nothing that forces the issue.

Teachers throw up their hands because by second or third grade, the difference levels are already too great to allow them to do anything but surive. The example I like to use is the fifth grade teacher who finds that half of the kids do not know what 6 * 7 is. I want the teacher to yell and scream at the school, but it's useless because that's just how the system works.

SteveH said...

This brings up a more direct issue. Why don't teachers yell and scream more about what they are faced with? Why don't they go to the union and get them on the problem? At best, I see some teachers complain that they system is not the problem, but the tests. How can a fifth grade teacher perpare the kids to take a standardized state test when they don't know what 6*7 is? So they blame the messenger or they claim that the message is not authentic.

All I can say is that this has roots in the fundamental educational beliefs pushed by schools of education. The argument is whether education is quantifiable or not. It's interesting to note that the least quantification goes along with the least accountability. Differentiated instruction is only a problem when you try to quantify the results. So the question is whether teachers do not like differentiated instruction, the tests, or both? When Duncan talks about "by any standard", the condition has hit rock bottom. Schools don't know how to fix the problem. They want it both ways and it can't happen.

SteveH said...

The question is how to fix the situation or showcase the problem. Does this presume that we can fix the problem across the board? If we show parents that differentiated instruction is a pipe dream, then what? Will schools relent get rid of full inclusion and social promotion? Will they provide alternate schools that offer more specific grade level goals in terms of content and skills?

I think they are stuck and not able to fix the problem. They don't have a model. They don't have a way to meet the educational expectations of a wide range of parents. They have no interest in doing anything like that. It's their turf.

I'm not optimistic. I would like school districts to offer choice (such as TERC versus Singapore Math), but I don't think it will happen. Charter and magnet schools seem to be a more likely way to for this to happen, but there are many opposing forces.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, teachers do yell and get results. I know a just-retired teacher whose 3rd-graders almost all KNEW their times tables. She moved to 5th grade, and the first class she had not taught in 3rd grade did not know them to any significant degree, nor did the other 5th-grade class. When she and the other teacher talked with the 3rd-grade teachers, they were told that memorizing math facts was "drill and kill" and therefore to be avoided. The administration actually backed up their demand that times tables be memorized and the teachers did it. I don't know why the 4th-grade teachers had not complained. This school was in a blue-collar, urban neighborhood.

lgm said...

Differentiated instruction is a no-no here in full inclusion land. Teachers are reprimanded if they attempt to do so. The textbooks and instruction are all for whole class.

The state requires that the district offers at least one accelerated class starting in 7th grade. For us, that's Prealgebra - which was the standard 7th grade course in my gen. The course is not taught at the honors level even though it has the label.

The rest of the problem is the populace desire for easy success that fits right in with the political desire of full inclusion. The populace wants NO honors or accel. program - that's considered elitist and several frequent the school board meeting saying so. They want full inclusion and they want everyone to access the teaching in the classroom - i.e. water down the class to the lowest level and don't send any homework. We have cancelled our IB program thanks to their vocalism. Our AP courses can be counted on one hand..and AP studio art is not considered significant for potential STEM students. Instead of offering upper level college prep courses,students are directed to the community college, at their own expense. No transport is provided, although transport is provided for those attending BOCES and other alternative ed programs. The student that is not able to buck up for early college can take study hall. I know one fella that has 5 study halls - he couldn't check out on the work release program b/c he couldn't find a job. The teachers that formerly taught these courses are now providing tutoring while supervising study hall and teaching double period Regents courses in response to the popular demand that the 'needy' children be given help by the school.

Before we went to full inclusion, the elementary parents would protest at the workload in the classroom and demand fun. The state testing is a huge raise in the amount of the course that was formerly taught by all but the one classroom in each grade with the 'mean' teacher. The solution of the vocal parents is to eliminate band, art, chorus, gym and recess, so that time can be used for more whole class academics, so their children won't be embarrased to go to RtI (response to intervention). The majority do not value education or work and want to take everyone else down the same path. Oh, this is an 'average needs' district.

IMHO the 'powers that be' don't care. They have the means to send their children to private school. Public schooled children will not be a threat to their livelihood and will never be educated to such a level.

Katharine Beals said...

Allison, I think it would have to be a student-centered documentary, as even those teachers who agree that there's a problem may be afraid of to criticize the system so publicly. Students may be key--they tend to worry less about the consequences, have less to lose in the first place, and are less likely that others to pretend (or talk themselves into believing) that everything is OK.

Indeed, I think that the Powers that Be in education know this, and are scared stiff by the idea of publicly aired student feedback. I've suggested to several higher-ups at our school that we survey our students about whether or not they feel challenged in their math classes, and have been completely ignored.

So, maybe a student-directed documentary about students?

SteveH said...

"Differentiated instruction is a no-no here in full inclusion land."

In our town, differentiated instruction does not mean that kids are separated in the same classroom. The kids are in mixed ability groups, BUT there is still differentiated instruction going on. How? That's the big question. I've had some examples explained to me, but the teachers almost seem embarrassed about it. Often, the only real differentiation happens in those few times when students do individual work, like homework.

If the demand for full inclusion and lower expectations come from many parents, then it's clear that there is no school model that can support the educational desires of all parents. It's not a matter of just letting parents know what's going on about differentiated instruction. Many parents in our town love full inclusion. They value the social implications of the model over the educational implications. Too bad that many of these parents are the ones most willing to make up the difference at home. The ones who have the resources go somewhere else.

I don't see this as something that is wrong that has to or could be fixed only if everyone knew what was going on. I think the only model that has any chance of working is choice. Either K-8 schools have to offer that choice, or the choice has to come from separating kids by school.

High schools have a history of offering choice (not that they are good choices), but this is not true for K-8 schools until the later grades. The assumption is that it doesn't matter; that it can all work out fine. It's not clear that even if you opened the eyes of many parents, anything would change. What's the new model?

One charter school in our area talks about a full inclusion enironment where the core courses are homogeneous, but everything else is heterogeneous. However, the last time I looked, the expectations were still low.

Is this a problem that has one solution? Is it even close? What, exactly, is the problem. It surely isn't NAEP test scores. It's the millions of kids and parents who want something more and know clearly what they want. Those choices are not available. There is no one solution. There are many solutions. Many are available right now.

kcab said...

Forget 7th grade, even in the primary grades the span can be too great. I think I've seen an estimate somewhere of the grade level disparity that can be handled by a really good teacher using differentiated instruction. IIRC, students 2 or more grade levels away from the expected level, on either side, are SOL. I could be wrong, maybe it was >2 grade levels.

I've been hoping that the RTI model, if applied to both sides (above and below grade level), might help. After all, it's essentially putting the kids into more homogeneous groups for some period of time. Supposedly, they should be teaching what the kids are ready to learn. RTI, interpreted as for both above and below, is being implemented in my district this year. I hope it doesn't turn out to be just enrichment for the above grade level kids. Seems to me that if applied to both sides then any stigma (per Igm above) is removed.

Anyway, I wish a documentary on the dream of differentiated instruction would be produced. I wonder who would be willing to be in it as a teacher though.

palisadesk said...

SteveH, teachers do complain about these things, and some get active in various committees and advisory groups that (supposedly) can influence policy. But screaming to the union will serve no purpose. Teachers have no “right” to homogeneous classes, or to well-prepared students, or even to effective resources. Public education means, when push comes to shove, that whatever walks in the door of your classroom is your responsibility to teach – as well as you can. That may end up being almost not at all, but the law and the collective agreement do not give you the right to demand a better instructional situation.

The pressure for smaller classes comes in part because of this ridiculous spread of ability and preparedness (the amount of paperwork and documentation is mind-boggling – when I actually tried to do it all, in my seventh grade class at a previous school, I was putting in 18 hour days 7 days a week and did not come close to getting it all done. I *never* felt on top of things, or that I was doing a good job. The task was intrinsically impossible).

The union can intervene in cases of bullying by school level administration, failure to honor requirements for lunch breaks or assignment of excess supervision, or changes in assignment without due consultation, but it cannot assist in the issue of full inclusion, differentiation, unreasonable expectations, and so on.

I think you are correct, that differentiated instruction is a response to other factors that are at play. It is a developing trend – we started hearing a lot about it several years ago, and it is picking up steam and will probably be in full force for the next decade or more. Then some other faddish idea will replace it. It is a variation on the theme of “all children will learn at their own rate” or “in their own style” and is consistent with the definition of the teacher’s role as one of providing learning opportunities,not one of directly effecting learning outcomes via systematic instruction.

However, we can track back the chain of causation farther. Full inclusion is a movement that did not come from teachers, but from higher up (in our district, anyway) and is driven by the desire to cut costs. It is supported to a limited degree by parents who do not want their children segregated into special schools or classes. But to be effective, schools need far more personnel and resources to make inclusion work than they would need for segregated Sped, and of course they are not prepared to spend the money. They want the feel-good qualities of “inclusion” without the commitment to the personnel and resources to make inclusion work effectively for students.

This discrepancy is not patently obvious to outsiders, however. Parents of struggling children are often happy to think their child is progressing (even if at a snail’s pace) in an “inclusive” setting, not realizing that precious years of learning are zipping by and their child will never have a chance to make up for lost time. By the time their child is in high school, functioning at a third grade level (or less), they are up the creek, so to speak.

palisadesk said...

(Part 2)

So part of this whole movement is driven by the desire to contain Sped costs. But, done properly, good specialized instruction can save money and prevent many problems later. Early and intensive instruction in the basic skills can permit many children with real challenges to achieve within normal parameters, and enable those with genuine handicaps to develop sufficient literacy and numeracy skills to expect to live a semi-independent life as adults.

In an inclusive setting, without appropriate resources, this is a pipe dream. Children who are in need of systematic instruction on an intensive basis -- not forever, just for some subjects, for a limited time – never consolidate their skills, and by later elementary school are completely lost. Your scenario of fifth graders not knowing 6*7 is way too optimistic. Try fifth graders who can’t reliably count to 50, or add 5 plus 3 without holding up the fingers of one hand, going 1,2,3,4,5 and then counting off three fingers – 1,2,3 – on the other hand, then going back to the first hand and starting with 1 to finally get the answer of 8.

I saw this in a fifth grade class last week. The child is not Sped. A seventh grade teacher has kids (also not sped) whose math skills are at the first grade level – still trying to do addition and subtraction with regrouping.

I have been in schools that effectively dealt with these sorts of situations, through intensive withdrawal in targeted areas of need, grouping students with similar instructional needs together. Use of paraprofessionals extended the opportunities. A strong skill set and good curricular materials were essential. All that is out the window now. We have group activities, math journals, manipulatives out the ying yang, foldables, "projects" and no real interventions for kids who aren’t getting it.

Speaking for my own observations in several schools in my own district, teachers are not in favor of full inclusion nor of “differentiated instruction” beyond a reasonable amount of allowance for individual differences that good teachers have always been willing to do. The expectation of providing appropriate skill-based instruction to a class ranging from 1st to 10th grade level (and writing your own materials to do it) is beyond absurd. Some grade teams work to minimize the problem by interclass groupings – I’ll take the “low” ones, you take the “medium" ones and she takes the “high” ones. If the school admin supports this, that will work better than total heterogeneity.

The upshot of all this is that teachers in local community colleges tell me that their average incoming freshmen are at a sixth grade level in math and English. A prestigious university nearby has recently (on the q.t.) begun offering remedial reading, writing and math to students who were at the top of their high school classes and who had good SAT scores. They may be smart, but they are severely instructionally disabled.

SteveH said...

"teachers do complain about these things,"

You mean some or very few teachers complain. Teachers don't just fall off the ed school truck and figure it out. Do they complain about the idea of full inclusion or just the spread of abilities?

"..but the law and the collective agreement do not give you the right to demand a better instructional situation."

Demanding a better instructional situation is not against the law.

"..but it [the union] cannot assist in the issue of full inclusion, differentiation, unreasonable expectations, and so on."

It can't or it won't?

"Full inclusion is a movement that did not come from teachers, but from higher up (in our district, anyway) and is driven by the desire to cut costs."

I don't buy this at all. Cost savings might be used to get some on board, but it's not the driving factor. I also don't buy this idea of teachers versus administrations or higher-ups. Almost all of the teachers I've dealt with talk the same ed school talk. Don't ever expect me to hop on board some sort of teacher support bus. You're describing a bus I've never seen.

"In an inclusive setting, without appropriate resources, this is a pipe dream."

It's a pipe dream even with resources. Our town provides plenty of resources. Full inclusion and differentiated instruction have plenty of support. It doesn't work when the kids are in the same classroom.

"Try fifth graders who can’t reliably count to 50, or add 5 plus 3 without holding up the fingers of one hand,..."

So what's your point? What is THE point?

Allison wants to show the futility of differentiatied instruction. Fine. What's the goal, reducing the different levels down to a point that is minimally acceptable or finding a new model? Is that possible?

Even if you accept that this is all about saving money, then what?

You are describing a system that is fundamentally flawed and is so far off course that it can't be fixed. I won't necessarily disagree with that, but what's next? What's the scenario? What's the process?

palisadesk said...

Well,SteveH, I can accept that your district operates on very different contingencies(as the saying goes) than mine, and that teachers and others there are supportive of full inclusion and other practices, and that these come from below, not above. You live there, and you should know.

However, my district is quite different, and the forces at work clearly differ as well. The full inclusion model was imposed from above, with very little parent consultation, and has never been fully accepted by any of the "stakeholders." The CEO of the district even said, in a public meeting, that the reason for it was to save money.

You can choose to believe that they are lying and there is some other dynamic at work, but I don't see why it isn't a reasonable proposition that different districts have different agendas, ways of doing things, operational procedures, and so on.
Despite the efforts to homogenize education, local variation is still quite extensive.

My personal opinion, after manyyears of fighting for reform at all levels, and going through all the "appropriate" channels -- serving on committees, making presentations to the school board, working to elect a reform-minded board, speaking to parent groups, participating in union committees on curriculum and advisory committees on policy, writing letters to the newspapers, giving interviews to education reporters,joining various reform groups and goodness knows what else, I am no longer of the opinion that the system (at least in my locale) can be substantively changed.

Despite the existence of angry parents like yourself (I know quite a few and have worked with them), angry teachers and administrators (I know plenty of them, too), disenchanted students and community members who no longer have children in school, the public at large (as many, many opinion surveys have found) is reasonably satisfied with their neighborhood school. Most want "improvement" but are not that unhappy with the status quo.

palisadesk said...

(Part 2)

Now, since your district is smaller, and obviously the conditions and motivations and local issues are very different from those I deal with, perhaps you can change things. Catherine's example with Irvington may be a pattern to follow. It should be more feasible to effect change at local levels in smaller districts.

Mine is too big, and it can outmaneuver the various dissidents, whether they are staff or parents. We also have very few teachers whose education was largely in "education," so the ed school influence is less. We rank very highly in level of education of our teaching force; teachers I know are quite dissatisfied with the current climate of heterogeneous classes, social promotion, "inclusion" at the expense of learning (for the "included" students as well -- they no longer get the support they need), and politically correct b.s. about social justice and diversity. Some of the most vocal are visible minority teachers (and parents) who find this movement patronizing and suspect a conspiracy to keep them in their place.

I don't believe in a conspiracy, because I can't rule out ignorance and bureaucratic incompetence. As one of Murphy's Laws goes, a bureaucracy is like a septic tank -- the big chunks rise to the top. Sure is true here.

My own choice is to focus on teaching my students as well as I possibly can, and in some cases at least this means life-changing leaps in skills and learning which makes the b.s. worth putting up with. It also means I need to fly under the radar, because if I openly fought the system (as I did via accepted channels for many years, before I knew it was a waste of energy) my ability to help students would be compromised.

There may be no teachers like me in your district -- fine, I'll take your word for it. But there are certainly others like me in mine. It is also true that the stupid stuff nearly all comes from the top in this district, and is rarely supported except grudgingly by teachers or (often) many parents. Naturally the district has its "pet parents" who cheer every move, but they are a minority even though they get a lot of airplay.

We continue to hemorrhage students because people are choosing private education or moving elsewhere, so ultimately voting with the feet may be the most effective way to foster change. I don’t see “choice” as solving the problem at the macro level, but it will enable people with a different vision to have schools that are consistent with their needs and values.

palisadesk said...

Back to Allison's idea -- I like the idea of a documentary that gave a dose of reality from the classroom level. I think you could do it with actual teachers on-camera, as long as you fuzzed their faces and did that voice-altering stuff they do with witness protection shots. You would have to obscure the faces of students, too, unless you got their permission to broadcast. But realistic scenes could be shown with the identities protected, and full interviews (if desired) with both teachers and kids. It would be good to hear from kids who resent the time lost to dealing with severely disturbed or volatile students, or whose patience with being made into non-voluntary tutors for the low achievers has been exhausted. Also, let's hear from some of the "included" students who know full well they are not learning and are the butt of jokes and insults (or worse) when adults' backs are turned.

I think this is an idea with some potential.

Allison said...

--You are describing a system that is fundamentally flawed and is so far off course that it can't be fixed. I won't necessarily disagree with that, but what's next? What's the scenario? What's the process?

What's next? What's the scenario? What's the process?

Only the Left believes in top down revolutions. Yes, some uproars are nothing but tempests in teapots. But if you try to dictate the goal of what should be accomplished by outrage, you can't succeed in a bottom-up solution.

You can't blow up the school system from the top.

I'm not going to try and dictate what hundreds, thousands, or more angry people do to change things. Maybe they'll do nothing, but I'd rather get the uproar going and then see what motivated adults are willing to do. Some of them may vote with their feet, their pocketbooks. Some may do nothing. But no one is going to know to do anything until they see how far the truth is from their own misconceptions.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of turning over this rock. I would suggest though, that differentiated instruction is just a symptom. The disease, the more damnable nut to crack, is how does the system enable and create the kind of dispersion that we see.

I don't buy at all, the theory that this is some ed school conspiracy, or a curriculum hack, or even a management or union failure. It's far more a story of convergence.

It's the convergence of political correctness, federal interference (disguised as help), monopoly behaviors, and an almost total lack of real analytical thinking about second and third order effects of the latest magic bullet that's the real story.

Differentiated instruction is just paint mixing to color the results.

For example, I've spent 2 of my three hours of prep time (through Wednesday) this week in administrative meetings. One hour was spent pushing on my latest grades (26 fails out of 65). Another was spent agonizing over how I would create individual plans for 20 or so kids who failed last years MCAS testing to get them to pass this year.

Sweet! Inflate your grades (hint, hint) to get down to just 4 or 5 fails. Then, in your spare time, figure out how to correct 4 or 5 years of misconceptions and miscues to get these same kids through a testing regimen that is ruthlessly impartial. This is the real story. This is where the dispersion needs a root canal.

SteveH said...

"Most want 'improvement' but are not that unhappy with the status quo."

So what will a documentary do? If it's all just about saving money, what will a documentary do? What about those parents who want to vote with their feet but don't have the money to do so? A documentary might stir the pot, but if a system is as bad as palisadesk describes hers, the goal is to get out of the pot.

"What's next?" has to do with what happens if a school just reduces the levels of differention? You've punched the paper bag, but it's still there. I've been through this with Everyday Math. The school just talks about balance.

"But no one is going to know to do anything until they see how far the truth is from their own misconceptions."

We have lots of parents who are not happy, but there is little they can do about it. This is not just about knowledge, but choices.

Allison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SteveH said...

"It's far more a story of convergence."

I agree with this. Over many years I've noticed how all of the pieces fit together and wondered exactly how it happened. We have full-inclusion, social promotion, developmentally-appropriate ideas, authentic learning, portfolios, learning styles, and conceptual understanding with low demand on skill and knowledge. A central theme seems to be low expectations and low accountability.

Even if I could eliminate differentiated instruction in our schools, that's not going to create the education I want to see.

Allison said...


Where are the audios of those kids? Do you have any with appropriate releases?

I think one reason a movie of the teachers, rather than the children, is because parents are more likely to become angry at the "children being exploited"--even if the real exploitation is by the school system; they may see film of the failing children and get angry, but get angry at the film maker.

Another reason is because it's easy for a parent to say "but that's not my kid" and hide behind that, but a good film maker could find likeable adults that appeal to other adults, so the teachers would say "I want my child to have that teacher" and then take her more seriously, say.

Allison said...


I am not suggesting Differentiated Instruction isn't a symptom of a disease. But some symptoms kill the patient.

ACORN is a perfect example of a SYMPTOM of the problem of political correctness, federal interference, monopoly behaviors, and an almost total lack of real analytic thinking about first, second or third order effects in society. But waiting to stop ACORN until we've fixed political correctness, federal interference, monopoly behavior, and lack of analytic thinking means NEVER stopping ACORN.

The same is true here. We can't wait to fix what you refer to as the disease.

The system is enabled and allowed to keep creating this dispersion because no one demands that it stop. Because even if all of the above disease processes are in place, enough people saying NO MORE "full inclusion/differentiated instruction" could make it stop--could even change the law.

Good isn't the enemy of best, and our inability to solve the ultimate problem shouldn't stop us from revolting against what's wrong now.

Allison said...

Katharine, PalisadesK, and others:

The student documentary is an interesting idea. Maybe it could be made, because maybe the kids would be able to do it themselves, and find a way to show what's wrong. This would mean olderish kids, though.

I am still concerned that parents would not perceive the kids as "their kids" but as "someone else's kids", and therefore, feel more able to dismiss it, while sympathetic engaging teachers might be better.

But it's an interesting idea. The kids sure would know how to grab attention.

So, here's the issue: do they know what's wrong? Or do they just know that *something* is wrong?

The teachers know what's wrong with differentiated instruction to cope with full inclusion; do the students? could they articulate that?

The reason I ask is because a film where the kids say "my school situation is untenable" but don't make concrete this problem of full inclusion/diffinst just because fodder for people of each side to push its pre-packaged argument.

Cranberry said...

I think the dream of differentiation is a response to an impossible situation. The public schools are required to offer students with IEPs "the least restrictive" classroom setting. In our state, tracking is discouraged. Offering extra, targeted instruction is expensive. If you declare that good teachers are able to teach at multiple levels simultaneously, then you've solved the problem, without spending a cent. Which teacher wants to label herself a "bad teacher?" Going against the school bureaucracy has no upside for a teacher.

In our public school, I've watched the growth of an ideology which publicly states that the least capable students are the students who most deserve the school's attention.

rocky said...

Is it possible to use differentiated instruction to make your classroom a little "one room schoolhouse"? I know you can't actually label your kids or use different books, but you might be able to mentally think about your differentiated cohorts as "5th grade", "6th grade", "7th grade" and have the other two groups work on assignments while you instruct the third.

Anonymous said...

Rocky, certainly it's possible to do that. It's just that each child gets far less instruction if the teacher has to devise three separate lessons for each subject, and take the time to deliver all three, than if one lesson worked for the entire class (with room for some variation in specific instances, but not for each student, for each lesson).

SteveH said...

"In our public school, I've watched the growth of an ideology which publicly states that the least capable students are the students who most deserve the school's attention."

"publically states"?

Our town won't say that publically, but they see angry parents who take their kids out and send them to private schools for just that reason. It's clear that the above average end of kids get short-changed; that all kids get short-changed.

But is it really clear? Will a documentary do the trick? Will it do any good if this is a publically-stated policy? A common response I hear is that K-8 schools have to teach ALL kids. Of course private schools can do more. Their kids are "pre-selected".

High schools teach all kids but they allow tracking. What is the problem with tracking in K-8? Are social issues really more important than academic issues? Do the fuzzy ideas of education come first or do they derive from a social agenda? Perhaps it's just the happy convergence of ed school thought. Drill and Kill separates kids by ability, so it must be defined as not important or even bad. They then claim the high ground by talking about critical thinking and understanding. What they are really hiding are low expectations and a social agenda.

What are the real problems and assumptions going on here? I find it odd that in math, K-6 schools claim that they allow full-inclusion, developmentally-appropriate spiraling, and a better math curriculum all at the same time. It's an astounding accomplishment!

Anonymous said...

targeting (sp)

ElizabethB said...

The audio are from a Canadian woman of Canadian children, she did them years ago and she has now passed away. Don Potter has tried to get in touch with her relatives to no avail. She had a set of more than a dozen sentences the she used, the only one we know is this one that she talked about:

1. Mother will not like me to play games in my big red hat.

2. Mike fed some nuts and figs to his tame rat.

The children knew games but not tame, hat but not rat, big but not figs, etc.

Cranberry said...

SteveH, the union made that statement in an open letter, published in the community.

Our high school allows tracking in science, math, and half of the languages. There's a sheltered English class in the first two years of high school, but it is heterogeneous, in the main.

Every district is different in their approach to the challenge of reaching all students.

I have also heard of districts which claim not to track, but tend to have a "faster" class and a "slower" class, for the same subject, same grade level. The clustering of students in ability groups makes sense, but good luck as a parent trying to 1) realize that such things are going on, 2) trying to decide to which group your child's been assigned, and 3) getting school personnel to admit that it's going on. It's de facto tracking, but if you're not "in the know," there's no way to tell.

Also, most parents aren't paying close attention to school matters, even in good school districts. The parents who are paying attention are those whose needs aren't being met, the parents of special needs kids, the gifted, and the twice-exceptional. (That also seems to describe most of the parent posters on KTM.)

OrangeMath said...

Students self-track in high school.

lgm said...

OrangeMath, the ability to self=track depends on the district. Districts like mine don't allow it, unless the child is moving to a lower track. Honors is by invite only. Smart, knoweledgeable children that don't have calm, teacher pleasing behaviors aren't invited.