I read an interesting article in the Economist recently. They were comparing school systems in different countries. One of the criteria they used was the differences between the highest and lowest functioning schools. Countries such as Germany and Japan have the highest difference. Poland had one of the lowest. ( This is the link to the Economist article, good reading.)It turned out that Poland has done one of the best jobs in increasing the educational levels of their lowest students without hurting their top students. Homogeneous (I meant to say heterogeneous,an unforgivable error for a science teacher) schools seem to raise the bottom without hurting the top.
This is a hard thing to deal with in NYC and probably most other places. We are in many ways an elitist country. Not as bad as the Japanese but not that far away. I think that the principal of my old school and her security general were of the elite is good school of thinking. My feeling is that it is really hard to figure out who is elite. Kids come to us with many different attitudes and problems. It is our job to believe in all of them.
I was talking to a student the other day. He said he wanted out of the class he was in because the teacher was disrespectful of him. I never saw it, though I think the teacher is frustrated that the class is not learning fast enough. I was thinking about a teacher I supervised she had a large number of complaints from kids who felt that she put them down. So I said to a kid who was complaining about her, "I'm always calling you dumb." and the kid responded to me that that was true, but I didn't mean it. And the truth is I never did mean it. Even the kids the farthest behind had something to offer.
The rumor is that my old school is going to be broken up and the current principal will become principal of one of the small schools. I'm sure she will want to take the elite academy. It will be great to see what happens with that. She used to run this academy on the basis of throwing kids out if they did not perform, and forcing kids to stay who did not want to do the work they were being asked to do. This will not be an option as an autonomous school. Of course if she ends up with the elite kids she won't have to worry about the lower third, unless no one wants to go to her schools and she has to take kids that are not that great.
As I've said in the past, you need to have a certain percentage of overachieving kids to provide a leadership in a school. But a school should teach compassion and concern for others. In this way you encourage kids to help each other. There is nothing more powerful than this.