If “homogeneous” is bad, is “heterogeneous” better?

An article from American Educator, a magazine of the American Federation of Teachers:

. . . detracking accomplished many transformations in a few short years. It transformed teaching from difficult to impossible. It transformed the ideal of equal instruction for all into practices offering less instruction for all. It transformed faster students from motivated allies to disengaged threats . And it transformed teachers from detracking enthusiasts into advocates for a return to tracking. These results pose challenges for researchers and practitioners. While tracking often has bad outcomes, detracking
is not necessarily better.
Researchers who have played a role in criticizing tracking must also consider the potential problems of detracking. Until such studies are done, high school practitioners should be cautious about proceeding to detracking reforms just because they sound appealing. There is too much at stake, and there is great risk of unanticipated negative outcomes. These teachers’ experiences indicate that good intentions and hard work are not enough to make detracking successful.


Substitue “homogeneous” for “tracked” and “heterogeneous” for “detracked,” and see whether the article has any application to West’s Curriculum Reduction Plan.

  • Teacher

    In one of the few “self-contained” classrooms I have taught in Madison, even the kids in this allegedly “tracked” classroom (or “homogeneous”, if you will), range from some literally not even able to reliably label individual letters of the alphabet, up to one only two grades behind in straight reading skills (in middle school) but somewhat lower in full comprehension and motivation. Not easy trying to keep ten students at such different levels engaged for even an hour at a time with one teacher.
    Undoing “tracking”, or forcing fully heterogeneous sections, has done more to hurt the education of both the upper level and lower level students than anything else I have seen. I am not impressed with the apparent push in this district to mix abilities and interests at all costs.

  • Kate McWhirter

    I am glad to see this discussion because even in the controversy at Sherman the hetrogeneous classroom has remained unquestioned. It seems to me that the further along kids go in school the greater the disparity in their abilities. This doesn’t have to come from just within our school district-with so many mobile students many kids come into our schools far above or below grade level. At the high school level you have kids coming in from private schools on one end and the kids “from Chicago” on the other. What I have seen of heterogenous classes at the middle school level has been pretty uneven, with a few extraordinary teachers being able to pull it off but most stumbling through, even with lots of training. I think there has to be a better way to close the gap. I do think that the homework clubs after school can do a lot to help kids who may not have supportive parents at home, as long as they aren’t also shutting parents out.
    Speaking of the gap– The most appalling article in December 12 Forbes magazine on the achievement gap. Low income equals low IQ ! Someone better versed than me should write a response to it…I don’t know where to begin.