'Tracking' prevents student success
A Dartmouth professor noted in her essay "A Village of 100 People Representing
the World" that if the Earth's population were shrunk to the size of a
village composed of 100 people with all ratios remaining the same, 70 villagers
would be unable to read and only one would have received a college education.
Each student on the UH campus is that one villager, but some students have
faced greater institutionalized odds than others in order to get here.
Looking only at the United States, educational critics have found that
"a disproportionate number of minority and low-income students are placed
in low ability groups and tracks."
Ultimately, this means fewer students in this category have an equal
opportunity to become that one villager with a higher education, because
assigning a person to a lower track or level is often tantamount to deciding
his or her lifelong opportunities.
The practice of "tracking" is based on the student's ability, which
determines course content or level (remedial, academic, honors or college
prep), the number of courses and often the career path a student chooses.
Children in low-ability tracks usually receive lower-quality instruction
than their peers in the college-prep track, which is the other major category.
Their classes include less content, involve more drill and repetition,
and place more emphasis on discipline and classroom management.
Researchers with the National Education Association have found that
"during the elementary grades, the science and mathematics experiences
of children from low-income families, African-American and Hispanic children,
children who attend school in central cities and children who have been
clustered in 'low-ability classes' differ in small but important ways from
those of their more advantaged and white peers."
Advocates of tracking claim it is an effective way to incorporate diverse
ability levels and to tailor instructional approaches to students' capacities
for learning. However, telling students they only have certain capacities
can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of low performance.
In California, teachers were asked about the pattern of seventh-grade
Latino students with high scores, who were about half as likely as white
students to gain entry to accelerated classes even though they had similar
Their response was that "the conditions (the teachers) imagined were
characteristic of the Latino students' homes were not adequate to help
the students meet the challenges of the higher-level classes."
The differences in students' educational paths during elementary school
continue to develop in high school. The dissimilarities in the science
and math backgrounds of children in the two major tracks are striking and
resistant to change. These differences cause their paths to lead in different
directions -- either to a university or to more blue-collar and service
In today's post-industrial global village, service-industry jobs are
more plentiful than factory positions, which have been shifted to other
countries, where many of the villagers who cannot read (as well as those
who can) work for extremely low wages.
The McJobs that are left in the United States for low-track high school
graduates are mostly part-time, pay minimum wage without benefits, and
are not sufficient for raising a family -- or for saving money to go to
college. These are great odds, indeed.
Feltz, a staff member at the Student Service Center
and UH alumna, can be reached via email@example.com.