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Tracking Ruins Students


Since the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 19th century, education has not changed in America in the fact that every student was tracked. At the time this was perfect for the nation in that there were people trained for being either the boss or the worker, yet since the 1960’s when The Coleman Report was published letting us know that we were failing in education (Weber 3). Since then our nation has dumped billions of dollars a year into the school systems but with no true increase in scores on tests to verify education. In a report that compared all of the countries in the world in education, the United States ranked 23rd, below Finland, South Korea, and Germany. What must we do to become a leading nation again? Before we can become a leading country in education we need to get rid of the tracking systems in schools.

Tracking usually starts in the eighth grade, but it can start even earlier, to determine what classes a child will take when he/she will enter high school. The main area for tracking is mathematics. There are three main concerns for tracking in the school systems today. First, children who are deemed “low ranking” are less likely to ever have a chance at greater education past high school. Another problem is that the majority of students on the low track are unproportionally minorities such as African Americans, Latinos, and children with a low socioeconomic status. The final problem lies in children who fall in the “middle range” who are neither advanced or below average.

In our current tracking system in the United States, there are two main tracks (Waiting). There is a track for the students who will obviously succeed and advance to college and a track for students who just are not smart. For those students who are “low ranking” and placed in the lower track with classes like “Fun in Math” instead of “Calculus” their odds of making it into college are strongly decreased. According to Sanford Dornbusch, a professor of human biology and a member of both the Department of Sociology and the School of Education at Stanford University, the students in the easier class will not be prepared for a four year college. Some colleges look down on the class based on the name because they know it was on the lower track. One scary fact that Dornbusch states is that 13% of the high ranking students in America can end up on a low track if their scores are misinterpreted or mixed up causing them to not be pushed in a college direction (SCHOOL TRACKING). Children in the lower tracks are at risk of not being accepted into colleges or being placed in remedial classes before being able to take the college classes.

Of the students placed on the low track, the majority are in minority groups, mainly African Americans, Latinos, and children growing up in a low socioeconomic status. According to Dornbusch, the ratio of African American and Latinos on lower tracks compared to their white counterparts is a 2:1 ratio (SCHOOL TRACKING). This ratio of low tracking vs. high tracking is not at all an even comparison of the ratio of students in schools. In fact, Dornbusch states that around 30% of minority students are misplaced on low tracks (SCHOOL TRACKING). Jay Hill, author of Tracking in Schools… A Thing of the Past?, also agrees that the ratio of minority children in schools are disproportionately placed on the lower tracks (Hill). Not only are more of these students a minority than anything else but the teachers are also the worst in the schools (Hill).

Most average students are placed on the lower track since schools do not want to push children too hard. However, according Dornbusch, “At minimum, more students should be in higher tracks” (SCHOOL TRACKING).If the mid-range students are not pushed to succeed then they will not be prepared for college and will most likely have to take remedial classes to catch up to their peers who were placed on the college prep track. Children who are pushed tend to be more interested in what they are learning and will succeed. Hill finishes his report by saying, “By wasting the talents of so many through almost random assignment of students to tracks from district to district, we miss out on the contributions and great potential of those ‘lower ability’ students” (Hill).

The best way to fix this problem is to end the tracking system all in all. According to Waiting for Superman, a few schools have been created to do this. One of these schools is a Jeffery Canada School where in areas where less than one in ten people in the area have a college degree, nine in ten students score proficient in math and will go to college.  Kipp Academies are another set of charter schools that work the same way. Throughout the United States, they have been placed in low income areas or in the heart of intercity school districts where all students take the “college prep” classes. The students in these Kipp Academies have beaten the odds and gone from the 32nd percentile to the 60th in reading and from the 40th to the 82nd in math (Waiting). Clearly tracking in public schools is not the answer when the students who go to Canada’s school or a Kipp Academy are the top in the nation. If we treat every student the same, push them to perform at their best, and prepare them all for college then they will succeed and we will once again become a leading nation in the world of education.

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