Harry Wong
Dec 2017
Vol 14 No 4

Tracking & Resegregation: School Choice, Excerpt from: On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle Against Resegregation

By Teachers.Net News Desk

On the Same TrackFollowing is an excerpt from On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle Against Resegregation by nationally renowned school administrator Carol Corbett Burris (Beacon Press, March 18, 2014)

Lessons Learned and the Reforms of Today

As noted in the introduction, when I first contemplated writing this book I worried that everything that needed to be said about tracking had already been said. The political pressures and normative beliefs that impeded detracking efforts decades ago in Woodland Hills,

Pennsylvania, are the same ones now operating in Evanston, Illinois. As the old adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

However, as I researched the subject and conducted interviews for this book, I realized that the recurrent beliefs, themes, and narratives associated with each story of detracking were exactly what made telling these stories so important. First, despite all the known obstacles, school leaders, parents, and teachers are still willing to fight the battle to detrack schools. There is a logic and an optimism to detracking that captures the minds, souls, and hearts of those who are concerned with equitable learning opportunities for all students, and thus there are leaders willing to take on the challenge. Because of that impulse on the same track toward equity, schools will continue to look to detracking as a solution. Many will succeed—perhaps not to the extent of banishing tracking practices completely—but their reforms will create better schools. It is my hope that the research and anecdotes provided in this book will prove helpful to their success. applying what we know about tracking to today’s school reforms.

There is a second compelling purpose, however, that this book serves at this moment in time. The research on tracking—looking at factors such as peer effects, the effects of racial isolation on student achievement, student ability grouping, and track assignment by score or by choice, as well as the normative and political forces that sustain tracking—can serve as a lens through which we examine current school-change initiatives. The beliefs and problems associated with tracking also apply to many of the reform initiatives popular today. We find them in school choice, test-in schools, charters, and teacher evaluation by student test scores. If we fail to intervene, we can expect the same inequities associated with tracking to occur on a wider scale.

School Choice

School choice is premised on the belief that the forces of the marketplace—choice and competition—are the best drivers of school improvement.(1) Most researchers credit economist Milton Friedman with applying the concept of choice to the realm of education. In the 1950s, Friedman began to advance the argument that the laws of supply and demand would improve school quality. He pushed vouchers (tax dollars given to parents to use toward private school tuition) as a means of giving more students access to better schools. Since that time, “school choice” has expanded to include public and private charter schools, online schools, public school inter- and intra-district lessons learned and the reforms of today: choice, virtual schools, and homeschooling. Advocates of choice include neoliberals who want community alternatives to the local public school, to conservatives who wish to infuse the forces of the marketplace into schooling with the hope of driving down costs and increasing school quality. In addition, choice appeals to libertarians who believe that they have the right to choose curriculum, school type, and whatever else they think is best for their child without the interference of the government.

Choice is popular with those who hold a functionalist perspective of schooling, which is based on the premise that schools are responsible only for the achievement (defined by test scores) of the students attending them. Parents make good choices or bad choices as to where their children are educated, and children live with the consequences. This is very different from the perspective that sees the providing of equality of opportunity for all students—not only those in choice schools, but those left behind as well—to be a public responsibility.

For example, those who advocate for charters will cite the achievement gains of the students in a successful charter school as evidence for why there should be more charters. They do not cite the evidence of charters that fail miserably or have worse gains than the local public school. They are not concerned with the effect that charters or other alternative schools have when they pull higher-scoring students and highly motivated students, along with funding, from the local public school. In that regard they are similar to the parents of high-track students who, when confronted with the evidence of the negative effects of low-track classes, simply tell the district to “fix the low-track.”

School choice has been in existence long enough for us to study its effects on racial stratification and student achievement. In 2001, researchers from the University of Colorado examined the results of choice policies on student achievement, school diversity, and equitable access in the Boulder Valley School District. (2) Boulder Valley introduced choice in 1961, although it was not widely used by parents until the 1990s. Overall, they found that choice did not increase student achievement—where [continued on next page]



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