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Heterogenous vs. Homogeneous classes

skatjskatj Registered User Posts: 837 Member
edited April 2008 in Parent Cafe
I am doing an argumentative paper on this topic, and I was wondering what parents thought about this issue. I am firmly against mixed classes, and I honestly can't see, from the point of view of a student who is in mixed classes, how it benefits anybody at all. I would like to see some more opinions on this subject. (arguments against me would be nice, but arguments for are appreciated as well)

Thanks :)
Post edited by skatj on

Replies to: Heterogenous vs. Homogeneous classes

  • jessiehljessiehl Registered User Posts: 3,328 Senior Member
    When I was in grade school, I was in hardcore agreement with you. These days, my position is more nuanced, though on balance I probably still agree with you more than I disagree (at least about the theory - I don't like a lot of the implementations). But I will give you arguments against, both relating to the theory and to common implementations, because that seems to be more useful to you (note: I am not a parent, I am a year out of college).

    - For the students at the bottom of mixed classes, it is beneficial to be pushed a bit, which is more likely in a mixed class.

    - If you put students into low-achiever classes, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers have poor expectations for them, and they have poor expectations for themselves.

    - Many schools give the better teachers to the more advanced classes, since those are considered plum assignments, while students who are already behind get worse teachers. Mixed classes mean a more equitable distribution of teaching talent.

    - People do not have equal aptitude in every subject (i.e. Spearman's "g" is a myth). Most implementations of tracking that I have seen are for all subjects - you're in the advanced program, or you're not. This is ridiculous when you can have someone who is brilliant at math but incompetent at English, or vice versa.

    - Measurements for what qualifies someone to be on more advanced tracks are often flawed. They are subject to stereotype threat, or underpredict the performance of certain demographic groups, or are being used in ways other than what they were intended for.

    - If what you're using to track people is an achievement test, disadvantaged students get the short end of the stick, and become even more disadvantaged.

    I rather like the idea of a school where classes are grouped by ability (not aptitude, but current achievement level) rather than age, all students are expected to make at least a minimum level of progress unless there are extenuating circumstances (to stop people from falling into the "low expectations" thing), and there are supervised independent study options for students who exhaust the normal class options of the school. There are some kinks that would have to be worked out, but it lets high-achieving students thrive without hurting low-achieving ones.
  • HannaHanna Registered User Posts: 14,250 Senior Member
    I'm ambivalent, but since you asked, I'll offer an argument or two against you. You're a high-achieving student in mixed classes, and you can't see the benefit to the low-achieving students in your classes. But you can't know whether it would be immeasurably worse for them in an all-low-achieving class, for all the reasons jessie mentioned.

    There's also a pretty good argument that the faster kids are going to be fine no matter what you do -- even if you just stuck them in the library for 6 hours a day. They'd teach themselves, and they'd go to college. So if you're the government, and your goal is to get all the kids up to a functional level, then you're smart to arrange the system in a way that benefits the slowest kids the most.
  • maritemarite Registered User Posts: 21,586 Senior Member
    My S was in heterogeneous classes for two years for humanities and social studies (he escaped the science math heterogeneous classes by virtue of being way advanced). It was a disaster for all.

    The teachers (and they were excellent, some with Ph.D.s, all with decades of experience) had a very hard time coping with the range of ability from 6th grade all the way to college reading levels. As a result, they were not able to assign readings above 6th grade reading levels, since the purpose of the heterogeneous classes was not to help the advanced kids, but to help the struggling ones. Homework was a joke, there was very little writing involved. Discipline was terrible as the struggling and advanced students were equally bored and equally fractious.
    On top of that, the struggling students, which the classes were designed to help, were losing heart at the prospect of not being able to compete grade-wise with the more advanced students. If the college-ready students were going to get As, what kind of grades would those still reading at 6th grade level get? After two years, the principal who'd instituted the heterogeneous classes left and honors classes were re-instituted.
    and there are supervised independent study options for students who exhaust the normal class options of the school.
    Advanced students were allowed to have one hour of enrichment per week. That was really not enough to address the needs of students who were advanced across the board, from math to biology to history and English. For my S, who was in heterogeneous classes for only some subjects, it was enough to allow him to read at his own level, and write several papers.

    I understand that while honors classes have been restored, a lot of effort has been put into supporting struggling students, such as was not the case before, or even during the era of heterogeneous classes. This effort is by the school rather than by volunteers from the more senior classes or by college students, and thus more systematic and thought-out.
  • ChedvaChedva Super Moderator Posts: 28,605 Super Moderator
    There's also a pretty good argument that the faster kids are going to be fine no matter what you do -- even if you just stuck them in the library for 6 hours a day. They'd teach themselves, and they'd go to college.

    I believe that this argument has been proven to be a fallacy. Even the brightest students need help; they cannot "teach themselves". That's why teaching is a profession. Many students who are not challenged in class act out because they are bored. And they learn to dislike learning - why should they be forced to sit in classes that don't teach them anything.

    I understand the argument
    So if you're the government, and your goal is to get all the kids up to a functional level, then you're smart to arrange the system in a way that benefits the slowest kids the most.
    Let's turn it around, and posit the opposite, however:
    If you're the government, and your goal is to improve the future of your society and help solve your society's problems, you should arrange the system in a way that benefits those who are more likely to be able to do so - the brightest, most capable students.

    It all depends on your goal - do you want to foster excellence, or bring everyone to a functional level?

    Personally, I believe that heterogenous classes generally mean that everyone gets a mediocre education.
  • zoosermomzoosermom Registered User Posts: 25,968 Senior Member
    My fourth grader is in a heterogeneous class this year. He's at the 99th percentile in math and about the 72nd in reading but started the year way behind in writing. There are 26 kids, one amazing teacher, a student teacher and a paraprofessional assigned to one child with a disability. The range of ability runs the entire gamut as does the socio-economic spectrum. These kids are all doing amazingly well because of the classroom setup. I'm not exactly sure how she does it, but all of the kids are now bunching up at the top in terms of accomplishment. I went to a publishing party at the class last week and the work was amazing and I can see how much improvement has been made. I guess what works so well is that she has mini groups in each subject so that the kids can work in a small group of like-ability students and move forward fast, which they are. She may have started with a heterogenous group, but I think they'll all end the year as high-achievers.
    My middle child who is in a pre-IB program has non-accelerated Italian (that's all the school offers this year), and she is losing her mind. In that class, it seems as if the teacher is teaching to the middle, half-engaging the bright and taking attendance for the rest. It's not clear to me who that benefits.
  • epiphanyepiphany Registered User Posts: 8,263 Senior Member
    As a teacher and parent and life-long educator, my views align with those of marite & Chedva. I think that especially the highly heterogeneous classes benefit virtually no one, and are a misdrection (waste) of important human resources, not to mention morale (for students and teachers). I strongly believe that this is a case, given the history of education in this country (of which I am also a student) of politics and wishful thinking having inaugurated the practice, and ongoing politics further cementing it.

    Note that this is not a case of discarding low-achieving or low-ability students. I happen to love them -- love them professionally, especially, but additionally personally. I see a lot of them in my more niche-oriented work right now, but luckily I now have an opportunity to work with them one-on-one, as opposed to a classroom situation which confuses and frustrates them.

    But it is a form of unintended (or resultant) cruelty to randomly combine levels & abilities, pretending to serve them all equally. More likely, even the best of teachers will be un-serving them equally.

    Homogeneous (roughly) classes are efficient & effective. Peer learning is also more efficient & effective in such classes. It has an especially positive effective on low performers to have their own set of standards & challenges by which to measure themselves. This has been shown by experience in the rural south, for example. Heterogeneity can & should be sought in other situations in school, such as performing arts, collaborative service learning, speech & debate, student government, and other cooperative in-school efforts. High academic achieving students will & do respect students who achieve in ways that some of them cannot.

    This arrangement has also been shown to encourage initially lower performers to qualify for the more challenging homogeneous classes. As long as tracking is not rigid & permanent, but is reassessed often (even bi-annually), it works.

    Neither the high-achieving students nor the identifiably gifted students "teach themselves." (Chedva has it right.)

    The situation zoosermom describes is fabulous but unfortunately rare, at least in my area. That's because there is so much resistance to teacher autonomy & so much irrational fear of such sub-grouping as she describes. I have also done sub-grouping, which works when an enlightened, intelligent principal, parents, board, etc. support it. Unfortunately, too often a teacher is not given this option.
  • mercymommercymom Registered User Posts: 1,249 Senior Member
    Agree with Marite, Chedva and also Zoosermom. Our 3 kids started out in a public school gifted program that got skewered by an elaborate political fight whose goal was to end court ordered desegregation and cross town busing. As a family we were forced to choose leaving public school for Catholic school, so my experience with mixed classes was there. D2 had one teacher like Z's where the teacher really knew how to handle mixed ability like a magician, but frankly the rest of those teachers were much more like Z's second example - they either taught to the middle, or worse yet, the bottom. When the principal tried to beef things up (ie, that idea that you can inspire the bottom to achieve more), all pushing those kids did was send their parents in screaming that "it's too hard" and "not fair" and "nobody needs to know all that". And these were middle class white families! Suffering through that school was a misery.
  • CBKCBK Registered User Posts: 182 Junior Member
    Agree also with against hetero mix. Have a child who was in inclusion in 3-6th a well behaved "model student" as told as a reason for placement. I agreed to it, a disaster. I naively thought the extra services, extra teachers in the room would benefit all.

    While testing in 3rd grade 99+ in testing (math/English) same in 4th grade. 4th grade the tide changed, the biggest disparity among the class,bottom heavy, zero middle of the road students.
    When getting class tests back, consistently 100 plus bonus questions. I complained. The administration couldn't understand why I would be the only parent complaining their kid got 105 on every test.
    1. topic in science minerals earth science chapter
    2. 3weeks to cover one chapter
    3. 2 weeks of "games" to reinforce the material
    4. 1 week of earth science jeopardy/crossword puzzles
    six solid weeks to cover ONE chapter, my kid was Not developing ANY study skills, never needed to. never brought home a book was allowed to do homework when the higher need kids were being helped.

    Grade 5 Math scores dropped to the 75th percentile as did the english.
    Same set up in 6th grade
    Scores dropped again.
    All this time in elementary in gifted and talented immersion program? so it is not good practice.
    And I also believed a smart kid can learn advance no matter the environment, not true, yeah they pick up the material quickly, but unless a total genius, and a tremendous curiosity they still need to be challenged to reach their next level.

    A disaster
    We are now in 7th grade UNDOING the lack of this child going to the next level but scrambling to recover what was lost
  • mathmommathmom Registered User Posts: 29,723 Senior Member
    Mathson spent second grade trying to teach himself problem solving. He learned very little and ended up loathing that teacher. His teacher recognized that he was way beyond the curriculum as his first grade teacher arranged for him to do math with a third grade classroom, but she was a big believer in heterogeneous classrooms. She also had them all reading the same easy readers. Supposedly the advanced readers would lead the way for those struggling with decoding. The advanced readers were just bored to death.

    Mind you when the gifted program kicked in in 4th grade - it wasn't necessarily so much better. There was still no one who was at Mathson's math level. Not even close.

    That said, my younger son has been a bit of a late developer with some learning issues involving processing and memory. He's very bright, but was often behind the program, though for example, when he finally learned to read he went from barely decoding to Harry Potter overnight. In math he remains shaky with multiplication tables and formulas, but has been known to derive geometry problems from the original axioms because he couldn't remember the shortcut formulas. He was probably still better off with advanced kids even when he wasn't quite working at their level.

    My kids have had teachers that were pretty good at differentiating for the different kids, but even Mathson's wonderful third grade teacher couldn't do everything. She let him write computer programs for the class, she encouraged writing by having him document his code and write adventure games, but he still would find time in her classroom to read 400 page novels in a couple of days. There was a lot of downtime.

    My younger son had a great second grade teacher. He managed to have every single kid in his classroom reading above grade level by the end of the year. No one else came close to his results. If only we could clone him!

    Still all in all, I think kids should be grouped by levels within subjects. I can't tell you what a relief it is when the kids get to high school and they can finally take courses that move along at a reasonable speed.
  • zoosermomzoosermom Registered User Posts: 25,968 Senior Member
    "The situation zoosermom describes is fabulous but unfortunately rare"

    I am ignorantly convinced that the reason it works so well is that the teacher creates homogeneous groups within the class, but that the groups are somewhat fluid based on subject matter and progress. ALso that there are three educators in the room full-time because the child with the disability is physically disabled, not learning disabled, so the paraprofessional energetically works with the child's entire group.

    This is all great for my son who started off in the bottom in writing and has moved up rapidly. He actually CAN do that because he got the help he needed earlier in the year and now the person who gave him the help has assessed his progress and keeps moving him around as needed. It's so great that they aren't locked in anywhere.
  • mercymommercymom Registered User Posts: 1,249 Senior Member
    Also agree with epiphany, we cross posted. You guys have very eloquently stated the case. CBK, I also experienced that "what are you complaining about?" when my kid had straight 100s. Those grades are meaningless if the kid is spending 6 weeks on one chapter and not learning anything. Plus they are not getting prepared for the rigors of high school and beyond. Then you feel compelled to supplement at home and that often doesn't go over well if none of their friends are doing it.

    One thing did work out well for us (actually several, it wasn't absolute total misery), that Catholic school had an awesome choir both school and church, with a fabulous director. S, child no. 3, is off to be a voice major next year and I doubt he'd have discovered that talent if we'd stayed in public school. Of course, then he might have become a math major like his sister.
  • skatjskatj Registered User Posts: 837 Member
    In my state schools,the problem does not seem to be dumb students, but students who don't care (actually both, but the latter is the dominant issue). These students holler like moneys every class period, not willing to do even the simplest task to raise their grades. From my point of view, it seems the arguments for mixed classes are not even relevant because the teacher rarely has a chance to teach, let alone form separate study groups, and I end up trying to read my textbook during class.

    I'm not sure if it's just particularly bad where I am.
  • scarfmadnessscarfmadness Registered User Posts: 469 Member
    The Scandinavian countries have instituted mixed-ability classes in all public schools to great success. Their argument is mainly one of social cohesion. Kids, especially in Denmark, stay in the same class with the same kids throughout their elementary education and often into secondary. This means there's greater focus on teamwork and less focus on individual competition. To an American, this might sound bizarre, but it has resulted in an extremely close-knit society which is governed by teamwork, negotiation, and compromise, and whose income disparity is the smallest in the world.

    Recent non-European immigration has created some conflicts in the classroom, but immigrants' children seem to experience far more success in Danish society than adults, probably largely because of their inclusive school system.

    I'm an American who was put on the gifted track very early and I'm grateful for the opportunities this gave me, but I also admire the Scandinavian system for emphasizing the education of all students and am in fact quite shocked at the hostility of this board toward mixed-ability education.
  • ChedvaChedva Super Moderator Posts: 28,605 Super Moderator
    scarfmadness, I think there's a difference with the Danish system, and that is that their society is not nearly as competitive or individualistic as ours. For the Scandanavian model to work here, we would need wholesale societal changes.

    I'm not saying that heterogenous education can never work; indeed it can in the right setting with the right resources. But in the average American public school, just throwing kids of mixed ability into a single classroom and hoping for the best is completely counterproductive.
  • epiphanyepiphany Registered User Posts: 8,263 Senior Member
    CBK: ditto this for high school. Inordinate time spent on one babyishly presented history chapter. ("What's your homework?" I ask one of my students. He shows me a few pages of large type, big illustrations, lots of white space. His reading homework for the night is like 3 pages. The small chapter -- 7 to 10 pages -- takes one week for the teacher to cover in the classroom. No wonder we have such a high rate of functional illiteracy. In fact I can barely believe that's a high school text, but it is.) Virtually all the tests, in all the substantive classes, are multiple-choice. Rarely is even a short-answer question offered.
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