TLN blogger Nancy Flanagan’s three-part series on grouping and tracking brings new thinking to a decades-long debate about the best ways to serve the learning needs of different kinds of students.

We educators arrogantly believe we know things about children and their capacity to achieve in life. We honestly believe we can sort and level kids, can identify raw ability and potential through scientific testing, can classify without activating our biases around class, gender, color and personal qualities. We think that labeling and grouping kids makes instruction more “efficient”—a hangover from our love affair with industrialization.

As part of her reflection, Nancy shares several stories and insights from the ongoing daily discussion among TLN members (portions of which we share regularly in our TLN Teacher Voices blog.)

Read Nancy’s powerful indictment of low expectations in The Wrong Side of the Tracks, Finale, then scroll down to read the previous two installments. Or start from the beginning of this excellent trilogy.

TLN blogger Renee Moore tackles “flavor of the month” inservice training head-on in her examination of the “Stunted Growth” of teacher professional development.

In the high-poverty school districts where I have worked, the only professional development budget was the 1 or 2% of whatever two or three year grant we had most recently obtained. More often than not, it was training on whatever educational reform or product was being promoted by that particular grant (or administration), whether or not that was a match for our needs or those of our students. When the grant ended, so did the training.

Renee goes on to describe “two promising seedlings” in the field of professional development, including the Quest Project sponsored by the Goldman and Carnegie foundations, in which she took part. In this ambitious project, Renee writes, the “signature pedagogies” of outstanding teachers from diverse settings “are collected using innovative web-based tools that are in turn used by teacher educators at pilot sites in training of candidates.”

TLN blogger Bill Ferriter makes a powerful and urgent argument that Americans are increasingly out of touch with the learning needs of students who must make their way in a world saturated with digital technologies. In “New Opportunities to Connect and Create,” he writes:

…what I’ve grown to realize is that very few people have really embraced the changing nature of a tomorrow that remains poorly defined. We know that the Internet today is far more powerful than ever before—and have heard about companies that are capitalizing on these changes—but we haven’t figured out what that means for us.

…No where is this gap between practice and possibility more evident than in schools. Despite millions of dollars of investment in computer hardware and a drive to make Internet access universal in states and districts nationwide, little new is happening in classrooms.

Bill goes on to describe a smart strategy being supported in his home state called “North Carolina in the World” which is creating a state plan to help prepare students for the 21st Century global marketplace. The plan includes “developing partnerships based on digital collaboration between schools in North Carolina and nations ranging from China to Mexico. Teachers and students in partnering schools are learning to use Web 2.0 tools like web-conferencing and wikis to connect kids across continents.”

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