Thursday, January 17, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 74



'Tracking' prevents student success

Renee Feltz
Guest Columnist

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 test scores.

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 jobs.

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

To contact the Opinon Section Editor, send e-mail to

To contact other members of 
The Daily Cougar Online staff, 


Advertise in The Daily Cougar

Student Publications
University of Houston
151C Communication Bldg
Houston, Texas 77204-4015

©2005, Student Publications. All rights reserved.
Permissions/Web Use Policy


Last update:

Visit The Daily Cougar