Pass or Fail: Reforming U.S. Education Approaches

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

If the multiage classroom is the initial target model for a reformed education system, what alternatives might coincide with the multiage approach?

Streaming Model

A method that deserves consideration is the internal streaming approach used in the British education system. Although the British educational system as a whole has its problems, and definitely should not be blindly imitated, several features of the British system warrant consideration, especially in connection with possible reforms made to the U.S. educational system.

For instance, the practice of streaming (or “grouping” or “banding” regarding some common factor) common to the British system merits some consideration. In fact, many American schools already use one level of streaming – internal streaming, streaming within class or age tiers – for certain subjects like mathematics, English, and the sciences. As one study of the history of pupil grouping policies in England points out, there have been three levels of grouping since the state began providing education around 1860: organizing students among schools, grouping students within schools, and grouping within classes.

The selection between schools has sometimes been called “secondary selection,” because it usually takes place between the ages of eleven and eighteen. In England, this age range is referred to as the “secondary education phase.”

Prior Student Assessment Model

The school-based selection was determined at the age of eleven when a student was assessed based on his or her intelligence and capacity for academic work, as opposed to abilities in either a particular style of education or curriculum area. The types of education included academic and more technical models. Traditionally, students with high academic abilities measured at age eleven were sent to grammar schools, which went on to prepare students for higher education. Students deemed to have more technical abilities were sent to either a technical school or a comprehensive school, which offered a broader balance between the academic and the technical areas of a standard curriculum.

Modern Day Streaming

Today, this first mode of selection is nearly extinct, with only a small number of local education authorities still continuing with the policy of streaming in this manner. It is a model we should be aware of, but not one we should adopt. The two other modes of streaming, though, are worth considering, and the third mode is particularly promising. This mode of “vertical” or “family” grouping keeps a group of children together in the same classroom for more than one year, especially in larger infant (preschool) and primary (elementary) schools. This is essentially the multiage classroom.

For teachers, these types of groupings can be helpful, but can also be frustrating. As an elementary-school teacher, Renee Goularte writes: “For a multiage classroom to survive and flourish, support is needed from the parent community as well as central and site administration.”

By the time a student enters high school, the educational system should begin to acknowledge that students are approaching the point of beginning some form of higher education, or the job market. This emphasis is needed to reinforce the student’s awareness that the purpose of schooling is to produce educated, moral, and dedicated citizens.

What do you see as the primary pros and cons to the aforementioned methodologies?

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