Baltimore County has rediscovered one-room schools. The educators call it "multi-age grouping" and "continuous progress education," but pupils in four county schools that are combining pupils by level of development instead of age -- Kingsville, Chadwick, Eastwood Center and Fort Garrison -- are not much different from many of their great-grandparents, who got their schooling in similar one-room schools in places like Howard, Frederick and Harford counties and rural Baltimore County.
In those days, "continuous progress education" was a necessity, not an innovation. It was particularly a necessity for many African-American students, who were smaller in number and were denied the educational luxuries of the whites from whom they were segregated. A school of one room, heated by a coal stove and with privies out back, was about all they could afford.
It's a delicious irony that educators are rediscovering the old truth that intellectual and emotional development isn't strictly related to physical development, that children learn at different speeds and in different ways. That has long been the wisdom of the nation's sparsely populated rural counties. At Tylerton on Smith Island in Somerset County, one of Maryland's poorest, they tore down a one-room school and replaced it more than a decade ago with -- another one-room school (this one on a deck so that it won't be disturbed by capricious Chesapeake tides). To this day, Miss Avery teaches the "older children" on one side of the room, while Miss Evelyn teaches the "younger children" on the other. (Sadly, only about a dozen students are left in the Tylerton school.)
Naturally, Miss Avery and Miss Evelyn work in close cooperation. In the metropolitan districts west of the bay, they call this "team teaching."
Ungraded schools aren't new to Baltimore City, either. Many of them practice variations on the theme and have been doing so for years. The practice fades in and out, depending on what's faddish.
The best part of the irony, of course, is that some of the old one-room schools are now being turned into museums!