The last #edchat got me thinking a lot about sorting, streaming, and labeling in our schools. So often you read about “the top set” or the “bottom set”. Admittedly, I have found myself thinking in these groups as well, even in my small class of 10 students last year.
I think there might be a difference between class/homeroom teachers in primary/elementary schools and subject teachers in high schools. Moreover, it surely differs according to country, curriculum and school type.
Throughout the discussion it hit me: The link between the “sorting” and the German school system. I recently blogged about it here. This morning, the paper dedicated a whole page to the school system in Northrhine-Westphalia. Recently, a referendum failed in Hamburg. A very important referendum: The extension of primary schools from four to six grades. Currently in Germany, students attend the same primary school for only four years, apart from students in Berlin and Brandenburg, they attend primary school for six years. In Europe, and (as the paper claimed) worldwide, Germany and Austria are the only countries to run primary schools for only four years. In fact, German students will then go on to one of three or four secondary school types, either depending on their grades (some states) or their parents’ choice (other states).
After fourth grade, students in Northrhine-Westphalia are an average of ten years old. And they are then being sorted: The Hauptschule for the “low achievers”, Realschule for the average and Gymnasium for the “high achievers. (Check my previous blog post for more information about these schools). Of course, politicians and educational reform supporters in Germany know that this is problematic. But the traditional system seems to sustain for the time being.
How do we justify sorting children into “success categories” at this age? How can we know that Paul will not at one point find his passion for Mathematics and go on to study astrophysics at Harvard, just because he had trouble in Maths when he was 9 and 10 years old?