Let's face it: Your children are not likely to be above average. Unlike the people of Lake Wobegon, our kids follow a standard bell curve and that means most children will fall into the "average" category. Not brilliant. Not stupid. Just normal kids.
While we like to think that our offspring will, of course, be geniuses, some might be but most won't. Not being a genius, however, doesn't mean your child can't succeed. After all, take a look around you--most likely you and your coworkers fall somewhere in the middle 60 percent of the bell curve as well. (Yes, intelligence has a huge hereditary component, so if you are above average you child has a higher chance of being that way too, but don't bet your life on it.) So, how best to help your child succeed?
Encourage your child's schools to group by ability. This might sound controversial as many schools have adopted an integrated learning where the teachers are supposed to adapt lessons to fit all learning levels. A new meta-analysis of over 300 research studies found that grouping students by abilities can "yield significant academic benefits without being expensive and can even save schools money."
It's not enough to just separate out children by ability--the analysis found that students at different levels need a different curriculum to be the most successful. Why is this the most important for average children? You'd think that because they make up the bulk of any classroom, they'd be the main focus, but that isn't always the case. Teachers have to try to give stretch assignments to the above average students while trying to make sure the below average students meet the state testing standards, which means the average kids can get left behind.
Study co-author Matt Makel the research that grouping by ability is effective for all capability groups has been available for a century, yet schools haven't universally implemented this. He wonders why.
As a parent of school age children, I see it this way: Parents of gifted students love the idea of their little darlings being in a special class, but parents of average and below average children don't want their kids to miss out. If everyone is in the same class, there are no hurt feelings, but nobody is primed for success.
I'm sure there are more complicated reasons behind this and some small schools certainly can't afford to have multiple teachers for every grade level, but that doesn't change the fact that the research stands behind dividing the kids up.
If you want your child to succeed, her best chance is to do so in a class where there are other students like her. That is, let's end the mixed ability classrooms and put our children where they will succeed. We know, in our hearts, that not every child is the same, so why do we treat them as if they are? And why place a tremendous burden on a teacher of trying to teach to multiple levels all at the same time?
People advocate for pushing the high achieving students all the time. The research supports this, but it ignores the fact that every group of students deserves lessons designed for them. Everybody achieves more when they are grouped with students on the same level, and it has to reduce the burden on teachers as well. A winning situation for all.
(Special thanks to Education Blogger, Joanne Jacobs, who brought this to my attention.)