This week, Ed Next’s Mike Petrilli was a guest on What’s the Big Idea? a podcast hosted by Josh Starr, superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Md.
Starr has been in the limelight because he has criticized the amount of standardized testing taking place in schools, arguing that there should be a three-year moratorium on testing while we put the new Common Core standards in place. Montgomery County is currently rolling out a new curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core standards.
Some parents in Montgomery County are unhappy that the county is hoping to limit tracking under the new curriculum. In the past, many students in the wealthy county were offered accelerated instruction in math, but Starr believes that because the new curriculum is more challenging, it should not be necessary to accelerate so many students. He also suggested (in the podcast) that some parents push for their children to receive accelerated math instruction for the wrong reasons.
In the podcast, Petrilli challenged Starr’s claim that students with a wide range of abilities (in math in particular) will be able to be taught effectively in the same classroom using the new curriculum. (The issue of how to ensure that all students are challenged in diverse classrooms is a focus of Petrilli’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma.) Petrilli described his visit to an elementary school in Montgomery County (which was the subject of an Education Next article) that has been praised for its efforts to teach a diverse student body to high academic standards, and noted that the school practices a great deal of tracking and ability grouping to ensure that all learners are challenged. He also pointed out that one of the most prominent advocates of integration, Richard Kahlenberg, agrees that tracking and ability grouping are necessary.