Not So Easy To Do In Real Life

It’s the age-old question: “Should we track them or should we mix them?” (Pivovarova, 2014). Usually, this question pertains to student placement in classrooms, especially in regards to academic achievement levels. For me, this is both a philosophical question and a real life one.

Philosophically, I believe mixing kids is a good thing. I agree that higher student models are necessary for lower kids, and sometimes peers are able to explain things in a way that makes more sense. I also try to remember that students are more than just their academic abilities. They bring so many more things to the table! They have artistic talent, leadership skills, social know-how, persistence, calmness… We need students with all these skills in a classroom so that they can all be models and can learn from one another. We would never dream of putting all the “leaders” in one class and the “followers” in another – no one would want to be in either room!

But in life, it is much harder to make heterogeneous classes happen. To start, in Arizona, English Language Learners (ELL) students are put in a separate ELD (English Language Development) class depending on their score on the ELL test. No English-only students are placed in an ELD class, so these kids are essentially tracked. (They are usually lower academically, because they are still learning the language.)

Then there are the gifted kids. My district changed the way it enriches gifted students a couple of years ago. They used to be mixed throughout all the classes, and the gifted teacher pulled them out once or twice a week. Now each grade level has a class with all the gifted kids. This, too, creates tracks, because they tend to do well academically (even though gifted does not necessarily mean high academics).

And then there are all the other kids in the middle. They’re not gifted and they only speak English. They have to be divided up among the rest of the teachers. When we create class lists each year, we try to even out the number of boys vs. girls, the number of students with special education, the number of well-behaved students with the ones who have more trouble. But it’s hard when the classes are already half-determined!

In my school, they have utilized both models as best they can in the younger grades. Classes are, as much as possible, heterogeneous. This allows for mixed groups, differentiated instruction, and hopefully lots of peer modeling. But for 45-60 minutes a day, all the kids at a certain grade level (say, 2nd grade) are mixed up and move to homogeneous groups during part of their reading block. The kids who are above grade level get extension activities, and the below grade level ones can focus on the parts of reading that are hardest. It has worked pretty well at my school, and helps to off-set some of the drawbacks to heterogeneous classes.

In her article, Pivovarova (2014) found that “peer group composition matters.” She compared low, marginal, average and high students. She found that all groups benefit from being placed with high students, and low students generally didn’t impact the other groups (aside from bringing down marginal learners). She also found that all groups did better when placed with others of their own level. As I mentioned earlier, this philosophically makes sense to me. For her research, though, Pivovarova (2014) only examined academic ability as measured by a specific test. I would love to see something like this completed for other qualities, like leadership or social skills or behavior. I think that if we focused on improving other areas, like the ability to get along in groups or problem-solve in real-time, academic achievement would ultimately go up, too.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton

Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

A Battle for Access

It’s scary how politics holds the reins over the educational system in the United States, particularly in regards to Arizona. ‘Keeping Up the Good Fight’: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona (Thomas, Aletheiani, Carlson & Ewbank, 2014), paints a dark picture of the struggle in funding English Language Learning (ELL) programs in Arizona. Thomas (2014) depicts the struggle of ELL programs since 2001 by portraying the over twenty court cases, appeals, bills, and reforms in one linear chart (p.245-247). The chart provides only a snapshot of the struggle but shows the blatant disregard of Arizona’s politicians and society not protecting non-english speakers rights to be equally educated. The authors’ main argument can be summed in in one statement.

“Policies and practices follow a market-driven mentality in which the whims of supply and demand dictate who gets what, how much, how often and at what cost…language is left to the competitive market, a place where individuals and groups have to battle with each other for access” (Thomas et al., p. 250, 2014).

I hold this sentence to be representative of many of the struggles in education in the state of Arizona. The fact that Arizona’s legislators are more concerned with the bottom line than the improvement and success of those who need it is astounding. The ten years of fighting to disassemble ELL programs and the over 21 million dollars in fines that the state was willing to pay to not have to support students who were trying to learn english is a stark example of the growing disparity in education. Although this article only shows us the struggle of ELL programs and those in them, Tyrone Howard in Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools (2010), shows us the growing disparity between white and nonwhite students. A large reason for this growing disparity is due to the racial inequality throughout the history of the United States. This history of racial inequality is then reflected by Arizona’s resistance to help underprivileged groups such as non-english speakers.

I am also disappointed to say that the fault not only lies on the shoulders of Arizona’s politicians, but on Arizona’s society as well. I am ashamed to admit that I was not very aware of the struggles with funding ELL programs in Arizona. One of the reasons I (an active participant in Arizona) did not know about the programs is I took little to know time to even find out about or care about it. I was more focused on problems that I saw more pertinent such as higher education funding, taxation, teacher pay, and other various community issues. In this barrage of political topics, I neglected to even think of others outside my direct scope. I briefly remember reading the headlines in the local newspaper about ELL programs but glanced over it because it did not pertain to me. It was not until I read this article that I really began to understand the struggles of non-english speakers in the K-12 education system.

This article shows that it is important to listen to those affected by our political system. It should not take fines and court rulings for us as a society to listen to quieter voices. If people are asking for help so that they can succeed within our educational system, we should listen to their needs, not to the economic bottom line. One should not have to beg and file lawsuits to get educational programs that help them assimilate into a society in which they belong, we should encourage them by giving them the financial and physical resources support they need. By helping others grow as contributing, educated members of society, we help our community grow and learn in the process.



Howard, T. (2010). Why Race and Culture Matters in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms.  New York, NY: Teacher’s Press

Thomas,M.,  Aletheiani, D., Carlson, D. & Ewbank, A. (2014). Keeping Up the Good Fight: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona. Policy Futures In Education. Vol. 12.