Opinion
Curriculum Letter to the Editor

Poverty, Low-Tracking, and the Role of Differentiation

February 24, 2015 1 min read

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

Chairman

Curriculum Associates

Billerica, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the February 25, 2015 edition of Education Week as Poverty, Low-Tracking, and The Role of Differentiation

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