There’s talk in our building of eliminating the academic math classes. My initial reaction was: This is a terrible idea. Students need these classes. We need to meet them where they are. Maybe I should go on the record and send an email to admin. I shared my frustration with a trusted colleague who held a very different opinion. She basically said, “You’re going to the wrong person if you think I agree with you.” She believes the academic level students need positive role models. Eliminating that track and placing them in an at-grade level math class is a good thing. I respect her opinion, but I still disagreed. I felt we would be doing the students a disservice.
I couldn’t let it go so this morning I spent some time re-reading portions of Linda Darling-Hammond’s book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. In part, her position on tracking is that it denies equity and access. It caused me to begin reassessing my position. I was still uncertain because I teach in an upper middle class community. I’m thinking Darling-Hammond is talking primarily about poverty. That doesn’t apply to my district.
Then one of Diane Ravitch’s posts caught my attention: Rothstein: Cannot Close Achievement Gap without Ending Segregation. The article struck me and I began to think…
Could tracking be considered a form of segregation in that a tracked curriculum denies students access or equitable access? Could tracking be considered a form of oppression?
I never before thought of tracking in those terms. I learn so much by reading Ravitch’s blog that I posed the two questions in that thread.
Here’s part of the discussion.
February 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm
Mary –I was thinking the same thing. Tracking is segregation within the school. And I think tracking is GOOD because it allows me as a history teacher to tailor my instruction to meet kids in their “zone of proximal development”; that is, to give them knowledge that makes them stretch but is not beyond their reach. Tracking is differentiated instruction, but without the pretense that all kids of the same age are getting the same education. Can’t we live without this pretense? Or will we continue to lie to ourselves about the real state of the content of our kids’ minds? Will we continue to preserve the pretty-looking heterogeneous classrooms that frequently bore the top kids and bewilder the low kids? (And will we divert this argument from one about substance to one about semantics [“He said, ‘top’ and ‘low’ kids!”]?)
February 23, 2013 at 6:19 pm
It is widely held here that poverty is the greatest disadvantage that poor and disadvantaged students face. It is the explanation for poor assesment scores and can not be overcome by what happens in the school. It seems perfectly reasonable that poverty would also have a significant impact on learning in the classroom.
This is an important and very interesting thread, tying together discussions on tracking within schools, “skimming” between schools, the relationship between poverty, test scores, and student performance, and the role of traditional zoned school in SES segregation in the country. I look forward to seeing more comments.
I wonder how the grades taught influence perceptions about the issues here. Would an elementary teacher have the same intuition and experience as a high school teacher?
February 23, 2013 at 6:13 pm
Rothstein argues, “When disadvantaged students are grouped together in schools, their challenges are compounded and build upon each other.” The knowledge deficits that you speak about in this post are compounded when students are place in segregated or tracked school environments. Disadvantages students need to interact in classrooms with many speakers and readers who have this powerful general knowledge that you describe. Research shows that they make greater progress in achievement when they have access to peers with the general knowledge. When they interact and talk with students with the same deficits as their own then these deficits are compounded. Disadvantaged students can bring great assets of creativity, problem solving, compassion, unique and valuable cultural experiences, perseverance, empathy, morality, patience, story-telling, and funds of knowledge in areas of nature or music to their more advantaged peers. Their assets are many and diverse when we look.
I do agree with you that we need to give these kids what upper class parents have been giving their kids. However, I don’t see upper class parents assigning their kids the KIPP boot-camp style school discipline that you mention. Kids do need the daily one-on-one annotation and thinking about daily life events that you describe.
I’m beginning think tracking is a form of segregation and oppression. Have I been a party to academic apartheid?