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I thought I’d never see – NYT on ability streaming in schools

  • June 10th, 2014

The New York Times reports studies that endorse streaming school classes by abilities. .

As summarised by NCPA, the article says:

"Empirical data has tended to show that students gain when they are grouped according to their skill level:

  • Last year, [Dartmouth College economics professor Bruce] Sacerdote and two fellow economists analyzed students at the U.S. Air Force Academy. They found that the students largely benefited from their peers, but those benefits disappeared when cadets of the highest and lowest abilities were grouped together.
  • In a 2009 paper, Sacerdote tracked Hurricane Katrina refugees across different schools, concluding that students with high abilities benefited the most from high-ability peers.
  • Examining primary schools in Kenya, another study found that all students — not just the best learners — benefited when they were grouped into different classrooms according to their abilities.
  • Analyzing data from one North Carolina county, researchers Caroline Hoxby and Gretchen Weingarth determined again that students benefited when they were surrounded with students of similar abilities.

I hhaven't tracked through all the links in the short NYT piece, but I wonder if the mechanism at work is similar to the mechanism that results in girls in girl's schools thriving away from the testosterone fuelled dominance of boys. Perhaps being made to feel too humble may permanently limit ambition and the confidence to try.

The NCPA summary goes on:

"The benefits of ability grouping, not just for the talented students but for all students, indicate that [current left and union endorsed plans to eliminate] gifted and talented programs could have serious, negative consequences for bright students from low income families". .


  • Roger Strong
  • June 10th, 2014
  • 9:47 am

Not rocket science. This has always been true it’s just that the ‘liberals’ in our education system being mostly of a socialists persuasion determined that it was a bad thing and did everything that they could to get rid of streaming. Smart schools kept it (although often with another label or hidden behind something else). I was part of the education system for 37 years and I heard all of the arguments. Kids thrive on competition-provided that it is done in the right way. Failure as well is a force that can be harnessed to work for students and is not necessarily negative.

  • James
  • June 10th, 2014
  • 5:54 pm

I suspect it is what Malcolm Gladwell’s David v Goliath analysis of SAT scores vs students obtaining graduate degrees at Ivy League colleges compared to colleges with less reputable colleges shows. The spread of those obtaining, or rather not obtaining, degrees at Harvard or MIT is almost the same as those at community colleges. The hypothesis being that the fish need to be in the right sized pond for their abilities.

  • Robert M
  • July 14th, 2014
  • 2:22 pm

The real point is that with NCEA, the value of the NCEA really depends on the school and its known value and credibility., ie a NCEA from Dio or Epsom Girls Grammar can probably be relied on to be fairly and accurately and assessed. While NCEA from Tokoroa high or Greymouth High wouldn’t be worth much or interpretable outside the local town.

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