Filler: One-size fits all fits students poorly

A School bus in the Connetquot School district's

A School bus in the Connetquot School district's Bus depot in Bohemia. (Credit: Newsday, 2011 / Thomas A. Ferrara)

Deciding what to teach children based on how old they are makes no more sense than basing their lessons on how much they weigh, or how tall they are.

The folly of relying on such irrelevant metrics was highlighted this week when a national study was released by the Center for American Progress. According to the researchers who compiled it and the media that reported on it, the study showed kids find school too easy. But that's not the important conclusion to be drawn from the data, and that interpretation is so political it makes my head not just swim, but drown.

The headline on USA Today's website read, "School is too easy, students report." Of fourth graders, 37 percent did say their math work is often or always too easy, but 49 percent said it sometimes is, and 14 percent said it never is.


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Of eighth graders surveyed, 29 percent said math is often or always like falling off a log, but 54 percent said sometimes yes, sometimes no -- while 17 percent said their math class was Greek to them.

Yet in the 25-page study, the idea that the kids in these varied situations should be in separate classes, learning different things, at different speeds, never came up.

Welcome to the current educational model: "No Child Can Be Allowed Ahead, or Left Behind, So Let's Just Sit Here."

I exaggerate. The 49 percent of fourth graders and 54 percent of eighth graders who say their classes are sometimes too easy are in the right classes with the right curriculum. But the kids who always or never find their lessons too easy are being taught the wrong lessons. They are prisoners of a one-size-fits-all educational system in which tracking has pretty much been banned before high school.

Years ago, students were divided into classes by aptitude and competence, so they could learn at the pace best for them. This has largely fallen by the wayside. Too many of the "gifted" kids came from white families with money. And besides, we now know that all children are special and talented, even if only at staring uncomprehendingly when faced with a curriculum beyond their ken.

So what happens now? Everyone has the same lessons, the kids who are falling behind get special help, and the gifted kids get screwed.

Last year my daughter tested in the 92nd percentile of eighth graders in Language Arts. But she was in the fifth grade. In math she's only just above average, but again, for a class three years older. By law and practice, my daughter is not allowed to learn in school.

Now I do care that when we divide gifted kids out, minorities and the poor don't make up as much of that group as they should, but I'm pretty sure the inequities of society are not my kid's fault. If I find out they are, I'll see she's grounded, but as things stand I'm not sure why she's being punished.

I'm also sympathetic to the idea that kids who've fallen behind do better when they have classmates like my daughter, but I'm only a wee tad sympathetic. My daughter is not some kind of tiny teacher's aide who exists in the school system to provide free tutoring which, let's face it, the teachers unions would never stand for. She has a right to learn things.

What all students have a right to are classes appropriate to their current education level and aptitude. The gifted and advanced kids have just as much right to this as the average achievers and those who aren't quite up to speed.

Deciding they'll all be taught the same thing based on age is as foolish and abusive as making everyone born in the same year wear identical shoes. The fit's fine for many, but wrong for the kids behind the curve, and crippling for the one's who've outgrown their peers.

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