Clustering Children – Grades One to Three. What Do You Think?

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Dear parents,
Starting next school year, we will be moving to a cluster grouping model in grades 1, 2, and 3. Cluster grouping is a method of assigning students to classes in order to reduce the range of abilities in each classroom, thereby allowing the teacher to better meet the needs of each student. Cluster grouping will provide a way for our school to continue to improve learning opportunities for all of our students.

I received this email three weeks ago and suspended judgement (as much as possible) until I was able to attend an informational meeting last night.  There I learned that my daughter’s school will be assigning children to classrooms (there are 3 classrooms for each grade) based an assessment of their intelligence/academic performance.  Instead of a normal bell curve type distribution, with each classroom having a majority of “average” and a few “high ability” and a few “challenged” students.  Wait, I have to break here to instantly apologize for any errors in terminology.  There were a lot of euphemisms thrown around and I’m not sure which are the latest and chosen.  Okay, back to the story.  Instead of that normal bell curve type distribution, children will be put into one of five categories.  Yikes, FIVE.  For this example, “5” is the high-ability child.  All the “5”s will be placed in classroom A.  All the “1”s will be placed in classroom C.  Then the “2”s, “3”s and “4”s will be spread through the classrooms, with classroom B being children that place in the 2-4 range, without any “1’s or “5’s”.

Classroom Classroom Classroom
A B C Total
5- High Ability 2 1 2 5
4 3 3 4 10
3 12 11 11 34
2 2 4 2 8
1 1 1 1 3
Total 20 20 20 60
Classroom Classroom Classroom
A B C Total
5- High Ability 5 0 0 5
4 0 3 7 10
3 12 12 10 34
2 3 5 0 8
1 0 0 3 3
Total 20 20 20 60

I’m old-fashioned, I guess.  Although not old enough to be of the “Flower Child” generation, my heart falls into that type of philosophy.  I like Hallmark Channel.  I used to watch Mayberry reruns every morning before catching my train to go to work.  My daughter is adopted – she was chosen.  I chose (and longed) to be a mom.  I had my years of being a self-focused career woman, from an auditor to a CFO.  I chose to give it up and have what I consider to be the best job ever, a mom.  Since then, I have been amazed, absolutely amazed by the beauty, depth, wonder, joy, unlimited potential of children.  They are incredible!  Children.  Beautiful, sweet, cunning, smart, unique, children.

So all that said, I’m sorry, in my heart they are children.  They are not “1’s” or “5’s” or “high support” or “high extension” or numbers on a graph or balls to be juggled by a teacher.  They are children.  They are not laboratory experiments to be tested, monitored, tested, graphed, labeled, judged.  They are children.  First to third grade?  They are little.  Very little.

Before becoming a stay-at-home mom, I worked at Golden Apple Foundation in Chicago, where I learned the difference that a teacher can make.  When my daughter started school, I felt and saw first-hand the difference that a teacher can make.  Good and bad.  So I’m putting aside my fears that clustering is yet another layer of the change from school becoming a statistical study and evaluation of children, instead of a place for them to learn.  I’m putting my trust in the teacher.  I know my daughter’s school has amazing teachers.  Teachers that will care about every child, regardless of whether testing says they are a “1” or a “5”.  I’m praying that my daughter is clustered into a classroom that has an excellent teacher, because that is what will determine whether she has an amazing second grade experience where she finds out how fun it is to learn new things.  Where she learns that books hold the answer to any question and the ability to take you places you’ve never been before.  Where she learns that she is a bright star with unlimited potential and the future is open and waiting for her.  That’s what a teacher does, whether the children in her classroom are there because they are in alphabetical order or because they tested as high ability.

Does your school use clustering?  What do you think?


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