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Navarrette on Ability Grouping

January 02, 1996

Ruben Navarrette Jr. (Opinion, Dec. 24) eloquently states the frustration I and other teachers have experienced and continue to experience working in schools where students are tracked and segregated by test scores, race and class.

Navarrette's comparison to tracking and honors courses as being no more "than a life raft from the sinking ship of U.S. education" couldn't be truer. However, the parents on those rafts are most likely captaining yachts, wielding more money, power and time than the rest of the parents, whose students meander in regular and remedial classes. Unfortunately, it is easier to appease the powerful minority with gifted and honors classes than to take the more difficult course of actually making an entire school, its staff and community work. Some suggestions:

Allow teachers to create and innovate with colleagues that they choose. If something isn't working don't plod through because you need to be in compliance. Open up the scheduling of classes to teachers. Make all administrators teach.

Make it easier for administrators to get rid of incompetent, uncooperative teachers. A review board of a community's parents, students, teachers and administrators evenly divided could very easily sift out problem teachers.

Integrate classes! State law mandates that magnet classes must be composed of at least 75% magnet students. Most schools, however, populate their classes 100% with magnet students. Why not let these classes be populated 25% by students from the regular school population (roughly five for every class)?

Expose great teaching, ideas and concepts to all classes regardless of the designation.


Palms Middle School Gifted Magnet

Los Angeles

* Navarrette equates honors courses and ability grouping in public schools with discrimination. He seems to think that everyone needs the same "one size fits all" education, and he maintains that only the top 10% of the students benefit from special classes. Navarrette is mistaken.

When ability grouping is used properly, it benefits all the students. The simple fact is that there are enormous differences among students in innate abilities, interests, goals, prerequisite skill development and study habits.

It is not elitist to ask that each child be given an education appropriate to his or her abilities and interests. We need good plumbers, carpenters, mechanics and police officers. And it is no shame to choose to go into a trade or use your hands to do an honest day's work. Navarrette is the elitist when he assumes that everyone outside the honors or college prep classes is a failure!



* My son (now in his second year at the University of California) attended public high school, making use of honors classes as a way of insulating himself from those students who neither valued education nor the rights of other students who did.

Now that the tyranny of "de-tracking" has entered our schools, my daughter's experience is much different. Because she is hard-working and bright, she was grouped with three other students who were not, one of whom was totally uninvolved and refused to participate in this so-called "cooperative learning group" (the dumbing down that Navarrette refers to). My daughter did her work, her partners did not, and she benefited academically less than if she had been in an honors class. Or a private school, where she is now.


Santa Ana

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