5.3 Selectivity and Diveristy
On paper, California’s student body is incredibly diverse. On closer inspection, it is well sorted. Throughout childhood, students grow accustomed to being sorted, or to sorting themselves: by age, by gender, by height, by neighborhood. Not so long ago, students were explicitly sorted by race; today the sorting persists by zip code or community, often with similar effect.
Schools also sort students academically. Most colleges and some high schools are selective; students must demonstrate their ability and commitment to gain admission. Advanced Placement courses are generally seen as the academic equivalent of making the varsity team. Few schools aspire to qualify all students for varsity. Within schools, most students choose, fall into, or are directed into tracks: college-bound, job-bound, military, gangs. This sorting does not generally spring from malevolent intent. But it happens nonetheless. (Those with an hour to commit to learning about the arguments for and against “tracking” may want to check out a well-prepared debate on the subject.)
Some schools intentionally reduce diversity as part of their educational strategy. Gifted And Talented programs (GATE) attempt to identify students with exceptional academic promise and provide extra learning opportunities for them. Schools have differing strategies about how to educate students with learning difficulties; some emphasize support of special education needs through separate classes. Others emphasize “main-streaming” strategies to incorporate high-functioning special ed students into classes with other students their age.
Single-gender schools attempt to boost academic focus by simplify the social framework for their students. The available evidence suggests that, all other things being equal, there may be some merit to this theory. Some studies show academic achievement is generally higher in single-gender school classrooms than in co-ed ones, but like any research finding in social science, the validity of this conclusion can be disputed.
The next post will examine continuation schools and education in the juvenile justice system.