I recently had a good conversation with my eighty year old mother, who is a teacher and has very committed views on public education. The talk was around class size and composition, but moved quickly into a discussion on streaming students by ability. Although we both believed that composition, over class size, was a more pressing issue, we were quite divided over a solution.
To give my mother’s view background: she grew up in Northern England during World War Two, went to university and received a degree in biology education, taught in England and Africa before raising three children, started substitute teaching in the eighties (to purchase her piano). I should also mention that she sent her children to a private school because of where we lived, not because she didn’t support public education. Of course, her lived experience is so much more than this, but to be true to her story would take a very long novel.
My mother believes is streaming. She thinks that the ‘bright’ kids should be able to move faster and those ‘slow’ kids should be given more time to understand the concepts. She uses that language (bright, slow, average). It isn’t about confidence, preventing hurt feelings or any social emotional learning. My mother believes that those students that would be in a slower stream are already feeling frustrated around their learning, and that frustration manifests itself with behavioural issues.
I have serious concerns around streaming. I don’t like it, but can’t really say why. I believe all students should be given the opportunity to learn with their peers. It seems unfair that those students who do well in math are all put in the same class and those that struggle are put in another class. But……
We already stream in BC public schools. We have math classes that were originally developed for ‘career pathways’ that have become levelled classes. Instead of an A stream, B stream and C stream, we have Pre-Calculus, Applications, and Apprenticeship & Workplace Maths. Same idea, different names. Those in A&W maths know that they aren’t working at the same conceptual level as those in Pre-Calculus. In Sciences, students are required to take a science 11: Physics 11 is not the same as Earth Science 11. Students can take Communications 11/12 over English 11/12 and the great BC First Nations 12 over Social a studies 11. And the we have honours courses.
And students succeed and see success in their learning in these courses. Do we accept these streams because they have different learning outcomes? Is there a difference between streaming within a common course and having different courses? Do we accept honours courses because we want to give those students (and their parents) opportunities to move forward faster?
What started as a great Saturday afternoon cookies and tea conversation has left me with more questions than answers.