Response to Betzinger et al on Heterogeneous Grouping

March 29, 2006
To the Editor of the Capital Times:
I read with interest the March 28 letter from Betzinger et al regarding heterogeneous grouping.
Using inflammatory “tracking” vs. “inclusion” rhetoric, the authors clearly misrepresent my position on the current debate, which was posted through the Isthmus on-line questions to candidates two weeks ago. I have stated my position in front of the board and in several forums attended by their group. I also have asked for dialogue with Barb Katz on more than one occasion and she has declined my request to learn more about her position.
Under the circumstances, I can only believe that the authors would prefer not to be confused by the record, which is:
Mathiak: Despite noble rhetoric in favor of this plan, I have deep reservations about the current push for “mixed ability grouping” (a.k.a. “heterogeneous grouping”). The district has failed to clarify whether the goal is to achieve a perfect demographic balance in each classroom or address the historic segregation of Madison’s advanced academic programs.
These are two very different objectives that would require different strategies to succeed.
Since 2000, the district has known that 27% of high school drop outs scored above the 84th percentile in the 5th grade math test; this group includes a large number of low income and minority students. If the district wanted to desegregate advanced academics it would require:

  • Early testing of all students to identify and nurture high ability students of color and low income students.
  • Reform of the middle school and high school guidance system to encourage rather than discourage advanced classes among students of color and low income students.
  • Creation of enough places in advanced classes to accommodate all students capable of success.

If the goal is to achieve a perfect population mix, we need to have a plan that meets the needs of all of the students in that mix. This means addressing several factors identified in successful models but which are not part of Madison’s current public school practice including:

  • The ability to control who attends the school and under what terms
  • The ability to require teachers to be trained in and to implement differentiated curriculum (one expert recently testified that this takes ten or more years to put in place).
  • Generous levels of in-stepping for students who are significantly above grade level.
  • Adequate numbers of support staff — social workers, psychologists, learning disabilities specialists, librarians, TAG specialists, and other core staff — to allow teachers to teach to all levels.

3 thoughts on “Response to Betzinger et al on Heterogeneous Grouping”

    I’d like to correct Lucy’s comment in her letter to The Capital Times when she mentioned that she requested a dialogue with me and that I declined her request. In fact, Lucy did initiate contact with me and we have been exhanging emails over the past several weeks trying within our busy schedulesto find a time to meet. On our last email exchange, Lucy and I agreed to get together after the election.
    I just want to set the record straight.

  2. Barbara, I would still like to talk with you.
    However, I also need to say that I was surprised to see your name on a letter that is so far off base and so clearly misrepresents my position. Especially after the exchange that I include below.
    I was acting in good faith in my second attempt to connect with you because I remain interested in ways to look at answering my questions. As is obvious from my parts of the message, I am trying to see what would need to happen to make it work:
    Date: Sunday, March 26, 2006 1:52 PM
    From: Barbara Katz Add to Addresses Block Sender
    To: Lucy Mathiak Add to Addresses
    Subject: Re: Could we find a way to talk?
    Size: 4 KB
    Sounds good — let’s be in touch after the election.
    Good luck
    —– Original Message —–
    From: “Lucy Mathiak”
    To: “Barbara Katz”
    Sent: Sunday, March 26, 2006 12:38 PM
    Subject: Re: Could we find a way to talk?
    > I’d be happy to talk after April 4. What I had wanted to discuss was the
    > feedback that I was getting from educators who support heterogeneous
    > grouping re. the need to have a number of pieces in place that would help
    > ensure success. I touched on the comments and what I took away from the
    > discussions yesterday, but would still like your thoughts. That’s the
    > part of the conversation that I think is most important for the school
    > community in general: what would we need to do to ensure success in our
    > schools? I’m not asking to oppose heterogeneous grouping, I’m asking
    > because I am genuinely interested in making sure that the resources are
    > there.
    > Lucy

  3. Lucy…
    I, too, am eager to chat with you. You need to know that this letter was written by our group and submitted to The Capital Times several weeks before you and I had the most recent email exchange. Certainly, we did not know when, or if, it would be printed.
    I do think that we can continue this conversation off this listserv.

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