Ability and Ability Grouping

Authored by: Tammy Harel Ben Shahar

Handbook of Philosophy of Education

Print publication date:  October  2022
Online publication date:  October  2022

Print ISBN: 9781032000053
eBook ISBN: 9781003172246
Adobe ISBN:


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Ability is one of the key concepts in philosophical discussions concerning education, yet it suffers from chronic ambiguity, having different meanings in different contexts. This chapter examines the concept of ability in the context of one educational practice – ability grouping. Ability grouping involves assigning students to separate schools, tracks, or classes according to their perceived ability. Although ability grouping is performed in all contemporary education systems, ongoing debate questions its effectiveness and fairness. This chapter engages this debate through a conceptual analysis of the term “ability.” Two possible conceptions of “ability” are examined to determine whether either is a suitable criterion for student assignment, and neither is found to support the forms of ability grouping that are common in education systems today.

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