“differentiate instruction.” The notion
behind differentiated instruction is that
a teacher instructs a diverse group of
kids and manages to reach each student
at precisely the appropriate level.
If you think that sounds hard, you’re
not alone. I asked Holly Hertberg-
Davis, one of the leading experts on
differentiated instruction, if the theory
was too good to be true. In a large
study in which she was involved,
teachers were provided with extensive
training and ongoing coaching in dif-
ferentiated instruction. Three years
later, the researchers wanted to know
whether the program had had an effect
on student learning. “We couldn’t
answer the question,” Hertberg-Davis
told me, “because no one was actually
Teachers admit to being flummoxed.
In a 2008 national survey (Farkas,
Duffett, & Loveless, 2008), more than
80 percent of teachers said that dif-
ferentiated instruction was “very” or
“somewhat” difficult to implement.
to believe that
what poor and
affluent kids need
from school is not
quite the same thing.
achievement for part of the day (say,
for reading and math), then regroup
them heterogeneously for the rest of
the day (say, for social studies, science,
art, music, and physical education).
Reading and math instruction can be
more narrowly targeted to students’
current attainment levels, whereas in
their other classes, students can benefit
from the social and academic advantages of diversity. Blended learning will
likely offer additional solutions, as students spend part of their day learning
online, with lessons customized to their
achievement levels and learning styles.
The Cultural Diversity Challenge
The second major challenge that diverse
schools face arises from their mix of
cultures and the differing student needs
and parental preferences that result.
To better understand these needs
and preferences, Harvard researcher
Naomi Calvo (2007) immersed herself
in Seattle, Washington’s “controlled
choice” program, which offered parents
public school options from across the
city in an attempt to better integrate
Seattle’s deeply segregated schools.
Calvo later talked to parents about