The Tracking Debate (page 2)
A sharp debate has developed around the nation over ability grouping and tracking. Most multicultural education advocates oppose tracking. They see classes for the gifted and for low-track students as contributing to the problems of unequal access to the curriculum. Significant evidence supports this view (Oakes, 2005). Advocates of programs for the gifted and talented argue that heterogeneous classes prohibit “bright” students from seeking educational excellence. They, too, have substantial research to support their position (Darling-Hammond, 1995).
Although excellent work is being done by a minority of teachers to oppose tracking, most take ability grouping for granted. High school teachers accept that some students are college bound and others are not. Teachers often avoid low-track classes, and principals assign these classes to the newest faculty. Teachers in low-track classes find it difficult to establish positive, productive learning environments because many of the students recognize their low status and conform to the school’s low expectations. Students exhibit defeatism, alienation, and resistance to academic work. Soon both teachers and students develop low expectations of these classes. There is more authoritarian teacher behavior and more student-to-student violence in these classes. In racially integrated schools, low-track classes have an overrepresentation of African American, Latino, and Native American students (Darling-Hammond, 1995).
Not only are students tracked, but schools and teachers—particularly new teachers—are tracked as well. Schools in low-income areas of cities often have fewer resources and fewer fully credentialed teachers than do schools in more affluent areas. Schools in low-income areas have more teachers instructing in a field other than their major (e.g., physical education majors teaching social studies). Meanwhile, affluent schools have only math majors instructing math classes and only science majors instructing science classes. Tracking occurs when schools considered difficult have eight classes of general English or math and only one class of honors or advanced English or math. Even bright, motivated students in such schools will not have access to a demanding curriculum. When these students graduate, they compete for access to universities with students from schools where most students took Advanced Placement history, math, and English (Darling-Hammond, 2001; Oakes & Saunders, 2007).
You must consider several important issues when developing a professional view on tracking and ability grouping. Substantial evidence indicates that students are frequently identified and placed into ability groups based on poor measures and inadequate placement decisions (Oakes, 2005). Oakes and others have demonstrated that race and social class strongly influence the placement of individuals. High-track programs are available in middle-class schools, whereas urban schools have a preponderance of low-track, remedial, and terminal programs. The placement process itself is unequal and unfair (Oakes & Rogers, 2006).
A major problem is that placement in low-track classes or low-ability groups is unnecessarily and inappropriately rigid. Students change and mature. Schools help students to learn. But rigid placement systems punish students for poorly informed or biased decisions made by students and faculty in prior years. The rigidity of ability grouping reduces the value of hard work (Sapon-Shevin, 1999). A fixed conception of ability and intelligence has long been abandoned by most serious researchers (Gardner, 1999).
Being placed in a low track contributes to the several attacks on self-esteem that devastate many students—particularly adolescents, girls, and students of color. Ability grouping, as presently practiced, frequently contributes to racial, ethnic, and class isolation. Lawsuits in Boston, San Francisco, and other cities have challenged school integration plans that guarantee access for African Americans and Latinos to prestigious high schools by limiting access for European American and Asian students (Guthrie & Brazil, 1999; Walsh, 1999).
If these criticisms of tracking are true, then what about the arguments of advocates for gifted and talented programs (Ford & Harris, 1999). Aren’t bright students bored and held back in “regular” classes? Haven’t magnet schools and programs for the “gifted” kept European American students in urban public schools when they would have otherwise fled? These arguments also have merit. Changing to heterogeneous classes will not, by itself, overcome the failure to motivate and interest students common in too many classrooms. Without other significant improvements in the quality of education, ending ability grouping might simply bore all students equally.
© ______ 2010, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
Add your own comment
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working
- Bullying in Schools
- A Teacher's Guide to Differentiating Instruction
- Steps in the IEP Process