If you visited these classes and didn’t look at the sign over the door of the school, you might think you were in an elementary school, or a middle school at best. But such classes are not atypical in large urban high schools, where, except for the Advanced Placement (AP) and honors classes, much of the classroom work is below grade level.
On one trip to a Midwestern city, I found one out of eight assignments at grade level in two high schools. A colleague popped in on about 40 English classes in the course of a day at a West Coast high school and found one — just one — class where real learning was going on.
This is the dirty secret in the wars over teacher quality: the low level of academic work at all levels in far too many schools. The consequences of low-level work are seen in poor test results: Students given only work that is below their grade level cannot pass standardized tests about material they have never seen.