Almost a decade ago, I wrote that “the greatest challenge facing America’s schools today isn’t the budget crisis, or standardized testing, or ‘teacher quality.’ It’s the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom.”

All these years later, I still believe that’s true, and it feeds into current debates over whether teachers should meet students where they are, or aim for grade-level instruction instead, even for kids who are far behind.

Not that any of this is new. It goes all the way back to the one-room schoolhouse. As long as kids’ readiness levels are varied—in other words, forever—teachers will have to figure out how to provide the right level of instruction for each of their students that’s not

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