The New York Times has an excellent series of articles called Room for Debate where they have various experts write an essay for or against a subject. Their latest is about gifted education.
I didn't read each article thoroughly but two things did stand out.
Professor Bruce Sacerdote had this to say:
My paper with fellow economists James West and Scott Carrell
examines peer effects among students at the Air Force Academy. We found
that students benefit from their peers, but that these peer effects
disappear if the group is comprised of the highest ability and lowest
ability cadets. My work with economists Scott Imberman and Adriana Kugler examines
peer effects from the arrival of Hurricane Katrina refugees in
receiving schools. We discovered that high ability students benefit the
most from high ability peers. And an experiment
in primary schools in Kenya, researchers found that grouping students
into classrooms based on prior achievement benefits all students.
Key point? That grouping students helps more of them and that not grouping gifted students together actually hurts their academic outcomes.
Professor Darrick Hamilton had this to say:
All children should have access to a “talented and gifted” curriculum
with teachers and administrators trained to deliver in an environment
that expects excellence of all children.
Particularly pernicious is this so-called ability group sorting both
across and within schools that is largely defined by race and class
position at birth.
Nonetheless, there is an abundance of case-study evidence
across geography, grade-level and demography demonstrating that “low”
achieving students perform better and “high” achieving students perform
no worse when all students are exposed to a high level curriculum. (bold mine)
Key point? That ALL students need a great and challenge curriculum and that much of ability grouping does not reach all students across race and class.
Professor Hamilton's last statement bumps right up against what Professor Sacerdote had to say.
(Sacerdote) Not grouping highly capable student together hurts those students BUT (Hamilton) if all students had a "high level curriculum," then all can do well.
There are several factors that seem to be problematic for both sides and maybe the question really should be this - which one can be more easily solved to give the greatest number of students better academic outcomes.
Given class sizes, curriculum and ability for a teacher to differentiate the curriculum and teaching, our schools, can non-grouped classes work well?
Given the data on who is in grouped classrooms, should we continue to use them?
Which is the issue that can be more easily (and cost-efficiently) solved? (I'm leaving out social factors here in favor of just talking academics.)