ABOUT THE STUDY METHODS
The study is based upon survey findings from a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 900 public school teachers in grades 3 to 12, plus qualitative data from five focus groups, conducted in winter-spring 2008.
Heterogeneous grouping of students in a classroom implies that teachers will respond flexibly to the different learning levels among the students in their classroom. But teachers evince serious doubts about how well they are carrying out differentiated instruction in their own lessons.
More than eight in ten (84%) teachers say that, in practice, differentiated instruction is difficult to implement.
Differentiated instruction-the strategy whereby teachers adjust their material and presentation to the diverse array of academic abilities within a given classroom-is tricky to implement, according to teachers. Education experts and policymakers who believe that this is the optimal alternative to tracking should recognize that, from the perspective of teachers, it is easier said than done.
In your judgment, how easy or difficult a mission is it to Implement differentiated instruction on a daily basis in the classroom?
Somewhat difficult: 48%
Very difficult: 35%
Somewhat easy: 12%
Very easy: 4%
Not sure: 1%
The following description of what it took for one teacher to try to make differentiated instruction work sounds like an engineering exercise requiring the most delicate and complex analysis and judgment. It also reveals substantial self-doubt about the execution:
"Language arts, we've really been struggling because we do have so many different levels of kids. They're always in the same classes all mixed together, so I do a lot of differentiated instruction with tiered lessons and flexible grouping. Where kids are really, really strong in writing they're with a particular group of students for writing activities. Then they might be in a different group altogether for reading, just depending on where their levels are. [Moderator: How do you identify that/] Some is teacher observation; some is testing and assessment scores. At the beginning of the year, a lot of it's based on the state standards test scores that they showed the previous year. Sometimes there's teacher observation that follows them [here] as well."
High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB
Tom Loveless, Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
As far as I can tell, virtually every school district in the country has committed to differentiated instruction as its core principle of instruction and instructional grouping.
Evidence-based decision making is not a hallmark of public schools.