This past week I’ve been employing this exercise to the topic of tracking in education. You know tracking as your own or your child’s experience being put in a leveled reading or math group in elementary school or in an honors or low-level English or science class in high school. Probably because I reaped the myriad benefits of tracking throughout my own education, I never questioned tracking until I was a teacher.
When I saw in my very first courses as a new teacher that my honors classes has a higher proportion of white and Asian students, and my lowest level courses has a high proportion of black and brown students, and I knew that that race is unrelated to intelligence, I questioned the system. My gut knew something was wrong, but I didn’t have the research or education to know what that something was.
Twenty years later, I have not only my own beliefs and experience, but decades of research to back me up. Tracking, whether through school choice or sorting of students within a school is bad, bad, bad. And it’s bad for ALL students, not just those at the lower tracks. Students in the higher tracks (white and Asian, wealthy) are taught to be racist. Students in the lower tracks (black, Latino, poor) suffer academically, and the results play out over their entire lives, and across our country. I’m making simplifications here, but tons of research bears me out. If you want to know more, I suggest Carol Corbett Burris’ book, On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle Against Resegregation. My department head gave this book to all 22 English teachers and it does an excellent job of explaining how and why tracking must be done away with if we truly want to fix racial and class disparities in America.
Back to that mental exercise I love so much. I believe in theory that race has no correlation to intelligence. I believe in theory that all children deserve the best teachers, the best curriculum, the best schools. In practical application, I believe tracking sorts students by race and gives disproportionate access to the best teachers, curriculum and schools. The only answer that feels right in my heart is the elimination of tracking. That means, at the simplest level, that there is only one level – no honors, no remedial, no college-prep. All students are held to a high standard, expected to succeed, and then taught how to do so. All means all.
This mental exercise has to be taken to the furthest extreme – what I would want for my own child. I want my child to have unlimited access to the best education to reach her full potential and live a successful, rewarding life. I would not want her in low-level courses because I know they would impose limits on her. If I don’t want that for my child, I can’t possibly want it for yours.
When it comes to tracking, my theory and my practice align. Eliminating tracking means I win the game. Eliminating tracking means we all do.