An educator offers a bold prescription to promote equality in America’s public schools.
High school principal and educational researcher Burris (co-author: Opening the Common Core: How to Bring ALL Students to College and Career Readiness, 2012) delivers a strong critique of tracking, the practice of sorting students within schools or districts that gives them different access to learning. Drawing on numerous studies and her own experiences and interviews, Burris concludes that tracking causes segregation of those black, Latino and poor students who are identified as low achievers with limited intellectual prospects. Begun early in the 20th century as part of progressive education reform, tracking was seen as “an efficient and scientific way to school students according to their academic capacity, social class, and future life stations.” Based largely on IQ scores, high-achieving students went into enriched or advanced college-preparatory classes, where their progress would not be impeded by those identified as less able. The author surveys 40 years of research to show that the assumptions that led to tracking were incorrect: “[M]ost studies showed that low-track classes depress student achievement and that the achievement gap between low- and high-achieving students widens over time due to tracking.” Moreover, high-achieving students do not lose their advantages when taught in heterogeneous groups; standardized and teacher-created tests show that all students improve. Despite overwhelming evidence from research, many parents and teachers vehemently oppose detracking, with reasons that reveal underlying racism. Some fear that a heterogeneous classroom will lead to a watered-down curriculum “and that students with weaker skills will be frustrated and act out with bad behavior.” Parents see advanced classes as prestigious, giving their child an edge for getting into top colleges. Well-educated and economically advantaged parents feel that they deserve educational privileges for their children. Burris offers concrete advice for school leaders trying to counter such assumptions, and she argues persuasively that tracking undermines real educational achievement for all students.
An important book that should be required reading for educators, parents and school boards.