in the 1930s, which had small groups of
students work together; the growth of
gifted education; the mandate for special
education since the 1970s; the spread
of English language learning efforts in
recent decades; and the contemporary
“everyone goes to college” movement in
now, practitioners are pressed to ensure
that all students learn what will be on
the test. Many teachers scale back their
efforts to differentiate lessons because
poor student test scores may end up
shaming the school, harming students’
progress, and influencing teachers’
evaluations and even compensation.
at meeting curriculum standards. As one
journalist noted, “Rocketship’s hybrid
structure;.;.;.;becomes a compromise
worked out between uniformity and differentiation” (Abramson, 2010).
In addition to hybrid schools, teachers have developed repertoires that
blend whole-group instruction with
Reform e;orts at di;erentiation have aimed at
customizing—not abolishing—the standardization
implicit in the age-graded school.
These historical efforts to reconcile
uniformity with differentiated curriculum and instruction occurred within
the structure of the age-graded school.
They have aimed at customizing—not
abolishing—the standardization implicit
in the age-graded school.
Old Dilemma, New Face
It’s within this context that the thorny
and stubborn dilemmas facing policymakers and practitioners have arisen
time and again. And so, in the second
decade of the 21st century, reform
efforts to both standardize and customize curriculum and instruction present
Carol Ann Tomlinson (2000) has
taken the stance that there is no contradiction between effective standards-based instruction and differentiation.
“Curriculum tells us what to teach,” she
writes. “Differentiation tells us how to
teach the same standard to a range of
learners by employing a variety of teaching and learning modes” (p.; 6).
Tomlinson, of course, is correct
in the abstract, but practical realities
intrude. When state tests with strong
consequences for students and teachers
come into play, as they do in every state
Again, the question of compet-
ing values arises. As Jay Mc Tighe and
John Brown (2005) put it, “How can
teachers address required content and
grade-level performance standards while
remaining responsive to individual
students?” (p.;234). Now as before,
teachers and entrepreneurs give up a
little and take a little as they figure out
ways of reconciling uniformity with
customization of teaching.
It’s in Our Hands—Again
We can’t erase the professional dilemmas that inevitably arise from trying to
implement rival values. But we can
manage them. Like contemporary
educators, previous generations of
reform-minded teachers and principals
had to cope with these same dilemmas.
This awareness makes it possible for us
to be smarter about working out
compromises that fit the limits of the
age-graded school and the constraints of
scaled-back resources for schooling.
Whether reform-driven policymakers
will convert that awareness into smart
decisions that will help teachers and
principals manage these dilemmas,
however, is anyone’s guess. ;L
Abramson, L. (2011, June 22). Schools
blend computers with classroom learning. All Things Considered. Retrieved
from National Public Radio at www.