Monday, February 4, 2008

To Track or Not to Track: That is the Question!

School tracking has been a major topic of controversy since the Reagan Administration backed A Nation at Risk. This document declared, "The educational foundations of our society are being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people". With the increased curricular requirements as well as standardized testing, more and more schools have begun to turn to tracking and pathway systems to keep up with the rigid demands placed on the school systems. The question is whether these tracking systems are beneficial or detrimental to the student body. Many say the tracking system is detrimental.

Tracking is a common part of the education system within the United States, but when does it go to far, where should the line be drawn? In the article written by Damien Jackson, he describes how eighth graders in North Carolina are being forced into a "pathways" program in which the students must choose one of four pathways or career options. They choose from a four-year college or university track, a community college or technical college track, a direct entry into job market track, and lastly an "occupational" pathway that is reserved for students with disabilities. There is much controversy over this system.

Many argue that students are too young to make such an important decision. Others argue that once a student is in one pathway it is very difficult to change to another pathway. Some guidance counselors think that the system will result in more summer school students and less students graduating in four years. They say it may take many students five years to graduate. One parent in the article, Idola Scimeca wonders what this system will do for black and brown children. She says, "It's like they're categorizing these kids by the eight grade and telling some you're going to work at IBM and you're going to work at McDonald's". The negative view of tracking is not only demonstrated in Jackson's article, but it is also seen in Jeannie Oakes article, The Distribution of Knowledge. Oakes shows that there are a disproportionately larger number of non-white students in the lower tracks and a disproportionately smaller number of non-white students in the higher tracks at multiple schools. Oakes also demonstrates the overwhelmingly large difference in what the students learn in the high tracks vs. the low tracks. Student responses in the higher tracks demonstrate a general positive interest in the topics being learned where as the responses in the lower tracks demonstrate a lack of interest and enthusiasm in the topics being learned. Both authors depict an overall theme of inequality due to the tracking and pathways systems. It seems that students who fall into the lower tracks are at a definite disadvantage. Maybe tracking is not the answer to improving out education systems. It may be that tracking is causing more inequality and making the achievement gap even larger.

Students should be encouraged by their parents, teachers, school counselors, mentors, and peers to challenge themselves to take college-prep courses. All courses should be open for all students. School should look at the student's ability in each subject (their previous level grade and performance in classes, not only on one-spot placement tests) before placing them in classes. Offering after school programs (although it is a lot of work to accomplish this in public schools) such as more extra help or classes to catch up for students who are behind in their classes. Students should not be limited to classes that they have chosen as their "pathways". Many teenagers, even college students and adults cannot decide their future path. It is important to let the students and their parents know the importance of education.

One of the biggest problems with the tracking system is the difficulty of switching "pathways" in the event that a student does change their mind. Countless number of college students who reconsider their majors and have changed them--on some occasions even numerous times. This system does not allow for a sort of "trial and error" period for students, as the path they choose right out of high school is what will determine the rest of their academic and professional future. Because of this, the pathway system, in and of itself, is highly unforgiving.

Above all, it seems most unfair to sort students based on their potential. This sort of program seems to show school administrators focusing on an elite set of students whom they deem full of potential, and simlpy give up on those who fall short. When in hindsight, the sole job of a teacher is foster whatever potential the student does have--regardless of the
amount--and utilize it to help the student grow into the best they can be. These sorts of systems seek to show how students are failing in their school system, when in reality, it is the school system that is failing its students.

-GROUP 3, ED175

1 comment:

Remi Mizuiri said...

On the other hand, there is a program called Kids to College in Southern California with the main goal of informing and encouraging students to go to college. The director of this program, Corina Espinoza, believes that 6th grade is the perfect age to start informing and somewhat tracking students for college. She explains how by 8th grade, it is too late because some students are already disengaged from school. Beginning in 6th grade, students start to become disengaged which leads them to lose faith in the educational system. Students at this age need to learn the fundamental concepts to go to college by putting students on the trajectory for college by taking certain classes and following a certain curriculum to graduate with certain required classes. Tracking is necessary for some students who are not informed about college and this needs to start as early as 6th grade.