(Editor's note: Patch columnist Jerry Heverly is an English teacher at San Leandro High.)
One of the common practices of schools across the United States is grouping students by ability. In the educational parlance we call it tracking.
Depending upon how you count them, we have from two to six different tracks at our school.The two basic levels are honors (H) and college preparatory (CP). English students in ninth grade, for instance, would have either English 1H or English 1CP.
But there are other groupings that might fairly be called tracks.
Special Education classes are intended, as far as I understand it, for kids with learning disabilties of one sort or another.
We also have something called Companion English, which students take concurrently with English 1CP. It’s meant to help them improve their scores on the annual state testing.
Then we have something called Edge, where very low ability kids get two consecutive hours of English with the same teacher.
And, finally, there are the Advanced Placement classes, created by the people who write the SAT tests. These are the most difficult classes often with hours of homework. The lure is that, at the end of the class, they take a national test that can earn them college credit.
These tracks apply, to a lesser or greater extent, to classes in English, Math, Science, Social Science and Art.
But it seems to me that there is one area of curriculum where we don’t track and, I would argue, where we ought to begin doing so: Physical Education.
We sort kids into ability groups so that slower kids don’t impede the learning of smarter students, and so the lower ability groups can benefit from techniques that might not work so well in honors or AP classes.
Yet when it comes to a child’s physical health we lump everyone together regardless of talent or interest level.
The physically fit youngster who plays basketball after school every day is forced to play games with couch potatoes. The bookish kid who doesn’t know a volleyball from a hockey puck is humiliated daily by trying to keep up with the girl who is headed for Sonoma State on a basketball scholarship.
There’s another facet of this that I think has potential benefits.
I have many students in my English class who are failing English, failing Math, failing Science. The one class where these students often excel is PE.
Imagine the boost of self-confidence that a young person might feel if she or he was enrolled in PE (H). Imagine the condescending looks these kids might have for the straight A Math student who is downgraded to college prep PE.
PE teachers could institute extra running in CP classes while honors classes played field hockey or softball. Eventually we could institute Edge PE classes where obese children could have two consecutive hours of calisthenics and running.
I have been told that there is strong community support in San Leandro for tracking.
If this is the case it seems inconsistent to deny the advantages of this kind of sorting to the very kids who are often relegated to lower tracks in academic subjects.
It’s time to bring these benefits to Physical Education.
(This column is written by San Leandro High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. Its tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary. You can read more essays like this in the archives of Entirely Secondary.)