50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education by David C. Berliner, Gene Glass, and Associates

Class Size, Grade Retention, and Tracking

  • In order to spend less, schools rase class sizes and defend the practice by saying class size doesn’t matter. Ironically, people of means who make these decisions are often the first to pay for private schools with small class sizes. The authors cite research that shows that small class sizes are better and common sense supports this idea. The more students you have the more disruptions and off-task behavior will occur. It will be more difficult for teachers to conduct effective formative assessments and give more individual attention. Teachers will also end up with more out of class clerical work and be more likely to leave the profession. Schools with larger class sizes tend to have teachers with less experience.
  • The idea that retaining a child in a grade helps the child is thoroughly debunked here. The so-called “gift of time” is not seen as a gift by a kid who “flunks.” Parents of flunked kids come to expect less in and out of school. Retention policies vary widely from school to school and state to state, and top performing countries ban the practice. Studies show that promoted students with the same profile as retained students do better in many ways. Retained kids have a more negative attitude towards school, higher absenteeism over time, and an increased likelihood of disciplinary problems. Retained students are much more likely to be poor, black, or Hispanic. The cost of the extra year of school ($11,000 US average) could be used for tutoring and summer programs. The 20% to 30% higher drop out rates also impose a cost on society. Retention is just another barrier for the least advantaged.
  • As soon as students start school they are usually tracked into reading groups. This process continues with many variations from school to school until students hit AP/IB courses in high school. Teaching tracked classes is easier due to the limited range of abilities in a class. In most cases the more experienced teachers get the high tracks. Tracking also separates students by race and social class and limits the social benefits that accrue to disadvantaged students from being in classes with high-achieving students. Being in a low track also sends negative messages to the students involved.

English Immersion vs. Bilingual Programs

  • Many states and districts require non-English speaking students to spend their entire day either learning English or listening to subject matter lessons delivered in English only (immersion). The alternative called bilingual education is to teach the subject matter classes in the students’ native language. There is no research supporting the former as more effective and some that supports the latter. It also sends a message that the culture of non-English speakers is devalued. Why is it wrong to promote retention of native languages when we try to teach English speaking students foreign languages? Research does show benefits for people who speak more than one language. Utah is seen as the one state that gets this right by teaching subject matter classes in foreign languages to English speakers.
  • (Doug: My school took the immersion approach out of necessity as we had students who spoke a dozen different languages. You can only practically do bilingual if you have lots of kids with the same native language. We did, however, respect and take advantage of the many cultures our non-English speaking students brought with them.)
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One Response to “50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education by David C. Berliner, Gene Glass, and Associates”

  1. […] These aren’t easy problems to solve. But we need to think about how to tackle them now. Otherwise, our children’s standard of schooling will be rapidly sliding downhill. […]

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