“We’re leaving a lot of things out—we acknowledge that,” he says, explaining that their approach prioritizes depth over breadth. Students do not cover American history from the beginning to the present day, he says, but instead “learn to think like a historian and to understand the social, economic, and political drivers of any situation, so they know what the right questions are to ask about any period in history.”
Crane, the math teacher at Parker, says that math teachers in traditional schools are often uncomfortable with the notion of teaching algebra and geometry in a nonlinear fashion, alternating units in both subjects over the course of each year’s curriculum. They see them as separate subjects, but, Crane says, “The way we’re doing it, there is a connection from algebra to geometry and we build on that with each unit.”
Multiage classrooms might be an easier sell for teachers, administrators, and elected officials around the country if there was definitive research supporting the claims of its advocates. In fact, most studies of multiage classrooms date to the 1990s. At that time, a widely cited overview concluded that “Studies in which the cognitive or achievement effects of multi-age and single-age classes were compared indicated no differences between these two types of grouping.”
Stone, the author and consultant, claims the reason there have been so few studies over the last two decades is that most research has been centered around testing and curriculum. Friedlaender adds that the old research may have been skewed by small, especially rural, elementary schools that resort to multiage classrooms for budgetary, not philosophical, reasons—it is cheaper to have one teacher for two grades—and do not provide the extensive teacher training necessary. And, of course, none of the studies involved adolescents.
Ultimately, although supporters of multiage education remain passionate about its potential benefits, they tend to agree that, as Friedlaender says, “it is not a cure-all.”
“Multiage education is a catalyst or an additive for what we are trying to do here, but it is part of a larger ecosystem,” explains Larsen.
Both Larsen and Sumner see multiage as one ingredient among many others found in progressive schools: a small-enough student load to allow teachers to personalize instruction; a structure that allows teachers to really get to know each student; and project- and inquiry-based learning that is driven by questions and discussion, not textbooks and lectures. Schools that buy into these approaches can also flourish without multiage education, but advocates say it enhances the mission.
“We know every school is different and every faculty is different,” Sumner says, “and we would be slow to say, ‘Just do it like we do it.’ We would say, ‘Here are the processes we use to arrive at what works for us, you might want to think about asking these questions.’”
This post appears courtesy of The Hechinger Report.