Separate and Unequal?

By Bryan Toporek — November 06, 2009 1 min read

With policies aimed at separating students based on ability flourishing in schools, educators have noticed a correlation between ability-based grouping and the continuation of the minority achievement gap, according to NPR.

Schools like Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., which place struggling students in remedial classes, have created an environment where predominantly minority students continue to end up in the lower-level classes, while their white counterparts succeed in higher-level classes.

“What you’re seeing in suburbia and how it is playing out along racial lines is testimony to the fact that race still matters quite a bit in a society and very much so in education,” says Amy Stuart Wells, a sociology and education professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

This racial division can have profound effects upon the minority students’ levels of motivation, some educators believe.

“Black children in higher-level classes were ignored, or perceived that they were being ignored, or did not feel comfortable going to the teacher after school to get help,” Lovie Lilly, principal of Columbia High School says. “They gave up and decided to go to level three classes where at least there were other black children.”

When minority students opt to drop themselves down into lower level classes, the NPR report says, they often opt out of a solid education, as teachers in the remedial classes expect less from their students. A former student of Columbia High, Jerry Mornvil, recalls his time spent in a lower-level class: “Our first day, going to that class, we made a nickname for that class. We called it the retarded class.”

District Superintendent Brian Osborne recalls, on his second day on the job, asking a group of students what their teachers’ expectations are for them. “The very first thing that one of the students told me was ‘It depends what level you’re in.’ ”

Osborne believes all is not lost for students in these remedial classes—he has created a task force to study the technique of separating in Maplewood’s schools.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.

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