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Does serving high-achievers well require segregation?

The blog post below this one synthesizes a recent article that is classic Rick Hess; questioning the conventional wisdom and making a compelling argument for something many of us would rather not confront. It’s a brilliant piece, sure to spark a lot of debate.

But I’ve found a puzzling inconsistency in his argument, which I hope he will address here or elsewhere. In his article, in which he questions the wisdom of focusing our educational priorities on narrowing achievement gaps (which, he argues, are being narrowed by pushing the top down as much as lifting the bottom up) Hess makes a pitch for school integration and tweaks “reformers” for dismissing it:

…in a terrible irony, achievement-gap mania has indirectly made it more difficult for reformers to promote integrated schools. Philanthropic foundations that support education causes are interested in serving as many poor and minority children as possible; when 30% to 40% of a student body is made up of white or affluent students, the school is deemed suspect, as reform-minded foundations see such programs as “wasting” a third of their seats. Bragging rights go to charter schools or programs that have the highest-octane mix of poor and minority kids. The upshot is that it is terribly difficult to generate interest in nurturing racially or socioeconomically integrated schools, even though just about every observer thinks that more such schools would be good for kids, communities, and the country.

Later in his article, though, he argues that kids from different backgrounds need different kinds of instruction, and that heterogeneously grouped classrooms are beyond the ability of all but a handful of teachers:

The implication is that, from the very beginning, disadvantaged and advantaged children have different educational needs and stand to benefit from different kinds of instruction. The kinds of teaching and support that can help disadvantaged students acquire the skills and knowledge that they did not receive at home are often superfluous or inappropriate for more advantaged children.

So how do you do both, Rick? Can you advocate for economically integrated schools and tracking (let’s call it by its real name, please) simultaneously? Doesn’t your own argument conclude that the two are all but mutually exclusive? I don’t want to believe this, and I don’t. But I can’t tell whether you’re just tipping sacred cows and leaving consistency to small minds or whether you’re tripping over your own argument here.

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