Dear Future President,
I would like to bring up a very important issue that directly affects high school students. If you were to look at all the courses offered in middle school and high school, you would find a seemingly endless variety of classes ranging in all different skill levels and areas of maths and sciences. This is called homogeneous grouping, “a broad term which includes such forms of grouping as ability grouping, interest grouping, grouping according to...many other criteria” (Bicak, 13). From sixth to tenth grade, however, there are only two options for English classes: regular and honors. For eleventh and twelfth grade English students, they can choose honors, regular, advanced placement, or International Baccalaureate level English in schools that offer the program. And various schools around the nation are condensing English classes even more so that there is only one option for all students. This is called heterogeneous grouping and it is one of many problems in our education system. English classes should be homogeneous, just like math classes, because it’s not fair otherwise for any student, homogeneous classes adjust expectations according to the individual skill levels of each group of students, and they make class more interesting.
Making English classes heterogeneous is not fair for any student because all students are individuals. Just like some students enjoy programming and algebra, other students are passionate about literature and writing. It’s not fair that math-inclined students have the opportunity to improve and hone their skills in variety of classes while students who are more humanities inclined have to take classes that are below them in skill level. In fact, a study published in the Roeper Review found that, “homogeneous classes may serve the needs of academically talented and gifted students without detrimental effects to other students served in heterogeneous classrooms” (Shields). This allows students who are gifted and passionate about English to take challenging classes while students with other strengths can continue to learn English at their respective levels. Heterogenous English classes force students to all be held at the same standards, but if it’s assumed that all students have different needs in math class, how is English class any different? It’s also not fair to students who have trouble with English classes because they are challenged too much. Students who may be learning English as a second language shouldn’t be graded on the same argumentative essays and public speaking assignments that native speaking students are graded on. Homogenous classes also affect how students work creatively. Students in homogeneous English classes will be surrounded by likeminded peers to work with and share ideas with while “students in the heterogeneous class were more hesitant and conforming” (Sheppard and Kanevsky). In other words, heterogeneous English classes only benefit the handful of students who fit the “average.”
Homogeneous English classes, however, can adjust the expectation level to fit the needs of each group of students. For example, “A study by Henry J. Otto states that the evidence slightly favors the use of ability grouping, particularly where standards, materials, and methods are adapted to the group” (Ekstrom, 216). Basically, students who are stronger in other areas of study are able to learn and practice writing and literature in the comfort of a group of like minded individuals while students who are ready and eager to delve into deeper concepts, such as Victorian literature or more challenging essay topics, can do so and at a faster pace. This allows for greater improvement from all students and a mindset that all students are different and should be treated so. When the expectation is set at the level a student needs, they are motivated to work harder, either because they are up to the challenge, or because it’s within their range. If the expectations are too high, like in a heterogeneous classroom, students will simply give up. If the expectations are too low, students will become bored and feel as though they don’t need to try, as half-effort work will still get them good grades. Just like the way homogeneous maths classes allow students to work under reasonable expectations, homogenous English classes will be able to give students new opportunities to improve and be challenged in individual ways.
Not to mention, a variety of class choices makes English class more interesting. If students interested in maths and science classes, for example, had to take basic algebra every year to accommodate for humanities students, they would lose interest in maths and sciences altogether and begin to lose focus and a steady work ethic for the class. The motivation would simply vanish. With heterogeneous class grouping in the humanities, this phenomenon is clearly evident. Students who are passionate about reading and writing have to complete the same basic grammar busy work every year to accommodate for non-native speakers and students who just aren’t as strong in the humanities. Eventually, these students become bored and jaded, losing the drive and passion to continue pursuing English. It should be obvious that students in grouped classes [develop] more positive attitudes toward the subjects they... [study] than...students in ungrouped classes” (C.L.C Kulik and J.A Kulik). Humanities students will enjoy learning more if they are in classes suited to their level. For example, students who enjoy English will have a much better time in a class where they can participate in socratic seminars, read difficult literature, and write more interesting prompts. Likewise, students who struggle with English will enjoy class much more if the educator's mindset and teaching style allows them to learn at a slower pace. At a time when school is already stressful enough, it’s important that classes other than math allow students to be grouped with students their level so that the class is more enjoyable.
Society has already seen how homogeneous class grouping affects maths classes. Students thrive in a variety of different classes suited toward their skill and interest levels. Students who are up to the challenge of AP Calculus are able to take such a class while students who are less mathematically inclined can choose to take on-level calculus or even a different area of math altogether. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for English classes despite the fact that “the results [of an AERA meta-analysis] favored homogeneous grouping” (Abrami, et. al). Heterogeneous grouping of English classes isn’t fair to students, sets unrealistic expectations, and makes class uninteresting. This is why it is so important that a change is made in education, so that more homogeneous English classes can benefit students. Reading and writing are such essential skills that students should be able to make the most out of American education and resources.
Valerie Levy, 11th grader in Rockville, MD
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