When the time comes each year for schools to assign students to teachers, teachers and administrators juggle numerous diverse inputs to come up with a balance that will provide an acceptable learning environment for all the children. Too many gifted children assigned to one teacher may cost the other students too much of their instructor's attention; a class dominated by boys may affect participation by the girls.
At Summit Cove Elementary School in Dillon, Colo., first-grade teacher Sue Mayfield must fill out cards on each of her students at the end of the year, marking their academic level and noting how they get along with others. She and other instructors then match the children to new teachers, trying to keep the group as heterogeneous as possible in terms of skill level and sex.
"Once in a while there will be a situation where I match personality-wise - I think, 'this teacher will keep this boy challenged,' " says Ms. Mayfield. Her school accepts written communications from parents requesting one teacher over another. This year is the first that the school announced an official deadline for parents to enter such requests - marking this step as an official part of the process.
At Captain Daly Elementary School in Germantown, Md., teachers also fill out profile cards. Then principal Dr. Nick Urick works to construct classrooms with kids of varying abilities, race, gender and ethnicity. "Parents are invited to send information if the child has unique learning abilities or style. A family history of [problems] with a certain teacher is taken into consideration ahead of time," Mr. Urick says. He notes that with 750 kids, it's difficult to meet everybody's request.