Ideas on education, the English language, and the teaching profession.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Tracking in School (Part Two: The Shortcomings of Inclusion)
In efforts to level the playing field and ensure everyone the right to an education, many public schools have practiced the philosophy of inclusion. Inclusions means having the sluggish kids, even those with mental handicaps and severe emotional disorders, sitting and working in the same classroom as the best and brightest of the school. This practice naturally inflicts a blow to the idea of tracking, which separates students into different levels according to their ability. Those who advocate inclusion reason that those sluggish students will benefit from a mainstream education that provides proximity to normal kids. They reason thus: Like someone getting better at tennis by playing with someone better than themselves, these students will improve their study habits by being with better students. They will also find questionable (though never actually questioned) studies to support their argument. Unfortunately, they forget that the tennis players playing with those worse than them leads them to stagnate in their progress and even make them worse tennis players. Almost all intelligent people who have endured classes with ignorant troglodytes because of a school’s mission to equalize what nature has left unequal will tell you how little they learned and how much time they wasted in that class.
Most public schools have forsaken the remedial and special education track, so they could put these students in regular classrooms. They compensate for the kids' handicaps by providing a co-teacher to assist the teacher in the classroom. In theory, the co-teacher monitors the progress of the sluggish students and assists them when necessary. In practice, most co-teacher hardly show up to work (most of them seem to be coaches) and the teacher has ten extra students in his classroom that slow down the learning process of that classroom considerably. Rather than having the same expectation maintained for the whole class, teachers lower those expectations to cut down the failure rate and accommodate the mediocre students who normally act out when asked to actually learn. After a few years of this, the regular students internalize the academic ineptitude of their “special” peers and they plunge into special education status themselves. Due to this inclusion procedure, the number of special education students grow exponentially and the regular level descends into a greatly remedial level with the title of "regular".
Fortunately, thanks to ratings of U.S. News and the administrators who desperately need a few smart students to redeem their feral student body, public schools will try keeping an honors level geared towards taking AP tests at the end. By necessity, this honors bubble that holds about ten percent of a school body escapes the onslaught of inclusion advocates and allows those teachers (who are envied by every other teacher in the building) to set some actual expectations for their kids and work at their level without endangering themselves to a high failure rate.
Naturally, most schools have tried expanding the honors level with the same ideas of raising the general level of student performance and earning a place in U.S. News by practicing inclusion while still achieving. Unfortunately, the same deterioration of expectations results from this. The Honors teachers have less freedom in how they evaluate their students because the administrators have set a higher quota for more honors students, which must not be violated. Once more, inclusion knocks down a level, making the honors track just regular.
Therefore, for the sake of a few knuckleheads, all the other students have been sacrificed. Parents now fear of their children become dumber by going to school, which happens depressingly often. Most kids in public school who actually tap their intellectual potential will do it on their own. Too many times, school only serves to bring them down by asking them to put down Jane Eyre so they can pick up a glue stick and colored marker.
Charter schools, private schools, and schools in affluent suburbs exist and thrive because of this simple phenomenon. Desperate parents will do anything they can just to keep away from the dullards that now dictate public school curriculum. These are the schools that nurture the leaders of tomorrow and offer a glimmer of hope in the future. They also expose a disturbing disparity between the fortunate and the less fortunate. Those less fortunate, which include many middle class families, have simply accepted public schools functioning as daycares for kids until they reach legal adulthood. Like the teachers, they have also dropped their expectations of what education should be.
Luckily, more and more parents now call for reform, usually in the forms of charters, schools that run outside the guidelines of a district but still receive government funding. These schools allow an outlet for parents who can't afford to live in a rich suburb or pay the tuitions for private schools. The trend of charters will rise due to the choice they offer kids who want to achieve without the heavy weights of kids impatiently waiting until they day they can drop out ruining their classes. Unsurprisingly, public school districts will do all they can to deter their success, so they can remain blameless of neglecting the young minds that overpopulate their ugly campuses.
However, a great majority of children will remain imprisoned in the public schools filled with the detrimental miasma of inclusion. These schools need tracking to restore quality learning back into the building. This would address the needs of the good students, the regular students, and the poor students. Moreover, it would allow teachers to teach the whole class instead the ones that require the most attention, who are coincidentally the worst students. Noting the shortcomings of the present system, tracking for the three levels seems like a much better idea to explore than the irrational notion of forcing all kids into the same physical proximity with the hopes that intelligence will somehow radiate from the good students to the bad ones.