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Motherhood, Apple Pie, and Differentiated Instruction

Phi Delta Kappan; Bloomington Vol. 86, Iss. 7,  (Mar 2005): 534-535.

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Headnote

A good Little League baseball coach will analyze a pitcher's performance and develop an individual prescription based on that analysis. Just as all pitchers don't receive the same remedies from high-quality coaches, Mr. VanSciver believes, neither should all students.

ON A TYPICAL late spring early evening, a young Little League pitcher will be struggling. His control will be off. Some of his pitches will land in the dirt in front of the plate, while others will be wide right - very wide.

Cascading from both the dugout and the stands will be words that sound like encouragement. "Throw strikes!" offers his coach. "Don't lose him!" yells his manager. "Try harder!" chants his family.

While all this sounds supportive, it presumes that the neophyte mounds-man is choosing to struggle and just has to choose not to. In fact, he wants to throw strikes, he doesn't want to lose that batter, and he is trying as hard as he can. In addition, these exhortations offer him no advice about how he can accomplish the singular goal that he, his coach, his manager, and his family want: to hurl that baseball across the plate somewhere between the knees and the armpits of the batter.

Sound familiar?

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) stands as the imposing batter to many teachers and students in our schools. Teachers want to instruct and students want to achieve. The voices they hear sound like encouragement. "Promote higher standards," offers the consultant. "Don't fail them!" yells the research. "Try harder!" chant public education's critics. But, like the empty advice shouted at our pitcher, these clichés aren't helpful at all.

Why?

NCLB dictates that educators disaggregate student performance data into cells determined by various criteria, suggesting that the performance of the students in the different categories is determined by...