This really pushes my buttons. Last month I attended my 40th high school reunion. My graduating class–and some of us had started together in kindergarten–had kids from “the projects” and upper middle class kids of business executives. A central design principle of the school system was that every class would include kids across the spectrum of academic ability. Every teacher was expected to have an educational plan for each individual student. A student might be in an advanced reading group but a mid-level math group. And boundaries were kept fluid so that assignments could be adjusted to individual progress. This made much “extra” work for the teachers. Forty to fifty years later, “us kids” think mixing abilities worked brilliantly. We also think we had outstanding teachers.
You’ll note that I’m providing anecdote, while the Education Next article discusses real, data-based research. Having admitted as much, let me throw out a further speculative thought. Truly great teachers always craft their work to the individual student. If we had all great teachers, mixed ability classes would be optimal. With the current mix of great and not-so-great teachers, mixed ability classes are a tougher call.