1. In elementary school, which subjects were easy for you? Which were difficult? Did you ever get special help at school for subjects that were difficult?
2. In some countries, children are grouped by ability into different ‘tracks’ in their school classes. Is this system of tracking used in your country?
3. What are some positive and some negative points of tracking students by ability?
Read these opposing viewpoints about tracking students. Choose the speaker you agree with most.
Judy Johnstone, eighth grade teacher:
“Tracking students by ability makes teaching easier, because all students in the class are at the same level. It’s just not realistic to expect all children to master the same course work. Besides, students feel more comfortable and learn better when they’re grouped with others who are like them. Furthermore, tracking enables teachers to plan the right instruction for the needs of a specific group of students. How can the same math teacher in the same class prepare some students for calculus while others are still struggling with basic arithmetic?”
Frank DeMarini, President of Parents for Better Schools: ”It’s highly unfair to decide children’s futures on the basis of a test they take at an early age. Tracking leads students to take on labels – both in their own minds as well as in the minds of their teachers. And for those on the lower tracks, the lower expectations lead to poor motivation in school. Once students are grouped, they generally stay at that level for their school career, and the gap between over time. When we expect low achievements from a particular group of students, that’s exactly what happens.”
Dr. Magdalena Torres, professor of education:
“A much better alternative to tracking is cooperative learning, where small groups of students work together on all classroom projects. All students in a group learn the same course work together, and because they receive a grade together, they share responsibility for the success or failure of their group. The stronger students help the weaker ones, and they all support each other’s efforts. For the most part, teachers act as guides and partners, not as givers of knowledge. Cooperative learning is also a good way to emphasize the development of students’ social skills.”
WHY AREN’T YOU AT SCHOOL, SONNY?
This is a question that many British schoolchildren may hear at some point in their school careers, when they are ‘playing truant’, ‘bunking off’, or absent without permission. The government thinks that absenteeism is getting out of control in England, but what can they do to make sure children go to school? Here are some of the reasons they are worried:
One million children a year bunk off school (go absent without a reason). In primary schools (5-11) the average time missed per absent pupil is over 5 days in the year. For secondary schools (11-16), it is 10 days.
Why is it such a problem? The evidence shows that truancy is linked to crime and failure at school. When children are out of school they might be committing a crime and they certainly aren’t learning.
What is the answer then? Some people think it is electronic registration: this is a chip in a card that the children have to swipe at the beginning of the school day. When the children put the card in a machine the headmaster can see immediately who is in the school and who is absent.
The best way of improving attendance is to make school and the gaps between the lessons more interesting. Some schools which have had attendance problems in the past have started lunchtime radio stations, sport, music and a breakfast club with morning TV and aerobics.
Other schools have resorted to more extreme methods when pupils don’t turn up. Last year 9000 children were expelled from schools in England, a big rise in figures. Many children were excluded for violence and criminal behaviour. Of course, throwing children out of school solves one problem but immediately creates many more. Some teachers want corporal punishment (beating children with sticks) brought back into the classroom (it was banned in the 1970s), but the government didn’t agree.
One parent knows very well the cost of truancy, not only to her children’s education, but to her own freedom too. A mother of 5, Patricia Amos, was the first person in Britain to be sent to jail for failing to send her children to school. She was sent to prison for 60 days after being found guilty in Oxford. She served 28 days in a very dangerous and violent women’s prison in London. Mrs. Amos said, “The whole horrible thing worked. It has brought me to senses.”