Implications of Equal Protection under the Law
Ability grouping is a common educational practice that is now commonly utilized in the US. The practice is used in order to enable the use of different instruction methods in schools. This is done with the intention of meeting the educational needs of different students (McCarter, 2014). The presence of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution raises the question of whether ability grouping of K-12 students is legal or illegal. The purpose of this essay is to delve into the effects of equal protection under the law in relation to ability group among K-12 students.
This is an educational approach of classifying K-12 students together based on their talents in the classroom. At the elementary school level, learners are divided into the Redbirds and Bluebirds. Two forms of ability grouping are usually used in the classification. The first one is the within-class grouping in which a teacher puts K-12 students of similar ability into small groups, mostly for Mathematics instructions and reading. The other is between-class grouping in which a school places K-12 learners into different course sequences, courses, and classes based on their academic achievements (National Education Association, 2015).
The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution forbids states from prohibiting any individual within their jurisdictions equal protection of the law. Under this clause, individuals in states must be treated as those in similar conditions and circumstances. For instance, it prohibit against discrimination based on race. This was seen in the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case in which the Warren Court ruled that segregation in educational facilities was inherently unequal and that students ought to be treated equally (Hellman, 2014).
Ability grouping leads to substantially different academic experiences for students as they are treated differently based on the levels they are in. the content presented and method of instruction used differ between the ability levels. In addition, ability grouping leads to differences in class composition, as there is a positive correlation between ability grouping and socioeconomic status and race. Students from lowest socioeconomic groups have been found to be overrepresented at the lowest ability levels.
The differences promoted by ability grouping do not enhance education for different students as is thought by its proponents. If this was so, then ability grouping could have been said to be neutral. This cannot be said as ability grouping has been seen to be advantageous to K-12 students in the higher ability levels and disadvantageous to those in the lower ability levels. Studies show that ability grouping causes students at lower ability have lower IQ score. It also causes them have low self-esteem.
The differences and impacts occasioned by ability grouping raise the question of its legality. The Fourteenth Amendment of the US requires states to ensure the equal protection of the law for any individual in their jurisdiction. However, this is not being done. Instead, ability grouping affects students in lower ability levels negatively yet due process is not followed when classifying students. The Court ruled in Goss v. Lopez case that education is a property right and that due process should be followed before denial is executed (Zirkel & Convelle, 2009). However, this is not done. Educators only group students based on how they perceive them. This leads to denial of educational rights to those who deserve.
Ability grouping leads to inequality in education. It causes K-12 students to be grouped into higher ability levels and lower ability levels. Therefore, classification leads to different educational experiences for K-12 students as methods of instruction and content offered differ between ability levels. Students in the lower group are discriminated. The Warren Court ruled in the Brown v. Board of Education case that students should be treated equally. However, this is not possible whenever ability grouping is practiced. Ability grouping leads to inequality in education. These inequalities make ability grouping illegal. This was affirmed in Hobson v. Hansen case in which Judge Skelly Wright ruled that track system in Washington, D.C. was invalid as it breached the equal-protection clause (McPherson, 2010).
Equal protection under the law raises the question of the legality of ability grouping. This is because ability grouping leads to inequalities in education. The practice is advantageous to students placed in higher levels and disadvantageous to those in the lower levels. Furthermore, it is because K-12 students at the lower ability levels are discriminated in terms of content and method of instruction when compared to those in higher ability levels. Lastly, grouping of students based on their abilities has negative psychological impacts on students in lower ability levels.
Hellman, D. (2014). Equal Protection in the Key of Respect. Yale Law Journal, Vol. 123, pp. 3038-3059.
McCarter, A.K. (2014). Ability Grouping in Elementary Schools. Retrieved on March 26, 2016 from http://dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3818&context=etd
McPherson, E. (2010). Beyond the Nation’s Capital: Minority Students’ Stumbling on the Tracks after Hobson. Education & Urban Society, Vol. 42(7), pp. 795-816.
National Education Association, (2015). Research Spotlight on Academic Ability Grouping. Retrieved on March 26, 2016 from http://www.nea.org/tools/16899.html
Zirkel, P. & Convelle, M. (2009). State Laws for Students Suspension Procedures: The Other Progeny of Goss v. Lopez. San Diego Law Review, Vo. 46(2), pp. 343-365.