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October 1, 1992
Vol. 50
No. 2

Ending Ability Grouping Is a Moral Imperative

    Instructional Strategies
      Citing in-depth educational research, such well-intended writers as Robert Slavin and Jeannie Oakes have attacked ability grouping. Their reliance upon quantitative methodologies does not sufficiently distinguish them from the supporters of homogeneous grouping. Both share a common belief in the power to persuade and influence others through statistical data. This common dependence upon numerical data is the cause for a continuing battle. It blinds the world to a different paradigm.
      The answer to the debate on ability grouping is not to be found in new research. There exists a body of philosophic absolutes that should include this statement: The ability grouping of students for educational opportunities in a democratic society is ethically unacceptable.
      We need not justify this with research, for it is a statement of principle, not of science. It should become a moral imperative along with the beliefs that slavery is immoral and that all people are created equal under the law.
      Our individualism is a defining element of our membership in society; it should not exclude us. We must accept and celebrate diversity because we are all different. We must believe in the fundamental worth and dignity of each person.
      The individual is fundamental to democracy and most religions. The individual should be fundamental to all educational decisions. Because much of our thinking about mass education practices is derived from factory model thinking, commitment to the individual will be more difficult to implement in public education. We now have, however, 100 years of knowledge and technology that was unavailable to the developers of mass education, and we have new models.
      For example, a bicycle company in Japan is filling orders for individualized bikes. In a nation that has established itself as a champion of mass production techniques, the Japanese have discovered a way to customize production on a mass level. This is the challenge facing American education. How do we customize educational opportunities and experiences on a mass level?
      The bicycle company starts with what is common, and defining, about the product and then incorporates what the customer believes is necessary to fulfill the concept of a bike. In education, we must start with what all learners need and then customize based upon the individual.
      We need to stop standardizing expectations based upon aggregated data and begin to customize based upon disaggregated knowledge of the individual. Standardized testing used for sorting, categorizing, and labeling must be ended. Accountability in terms of student progress can, and must, be maintained on an individual continuum and not on a group continuum. Difficult? Yes! Challenging? Yes! Impossible? No!

      Cloyd Hastings has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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