Poverty, Low-Tracking, and the Role of Differentiation

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To the Editor:

I am in agreement with Carol Ann Tomlinson's reply to James R. Delisle on differentiated instruction ("Differentiation Doesn't Work," Jan. 7, 2015, and "To the Contrary: Differentiation Does Work," Jan. 28, 2015).

Differentiated instruction has been of deep interest since I received my introduction to it in 1969 from Donald D. Durrell at Boston University.

Curriculum Associates recently introduced a K-12 reading and mathematics adaptive diagnostic, i-Ready, that determines students' functioning at the subskill level and maps online instruction for each student accordingly.

Our related teacher professional development is focused on data-driven, differentiated instruction. Not surprisingly, we are seeing exceptional student learning gains across the ability spectrum, nationwide—gains that have been independently validated.

Ms. Tomlinson mentions poverty and lower-track classes. Poverty, per se, has very little to do with observed lower functioning. Decades ago, Betty Hart and Todd Risley found the oral-language deficit experienced by low-functioning students accounts for much of the so-called "ability" gap. Lev Vygotsky's earlier work, Thought and Language, nailed a profound connection between oral language and cognition and foreshadowed this functioning gap.

Lower-economic-class low-functioning is, in large part, a product of the oral-language deficit in children's early years—the impoverished oral-language environment in the home that is a major culprit. And, alas, that is too often the case in the homes of minority students. Thus, low-tracking is not caused by race, nor low socioeconomics, but the poverty of the home language environment in the early years.

Frank Ferguson
Curriculum Associates
Billerica, Mass.

Vol. 34, Issue 22, Page 30

Published in Print: February 25, 2015, as Poverty, Low-Tracking, and The Role of Differentiation
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