The Tracking Wars

Overview

In the 1980s, a nationwide reform movement sprang up in opposition to "tracking," the controversial practice of schools grouping students by ability and organizing curriculum by level of difficulty. Officials in two states, Massachusetts and California, adopted policies urging middle schools to reduce or abandon tracking. In this book, Tom Loveless describes how schools reacted to these recommendations and discusses why some schools went along with detracking while others ...

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Overview

In the 1980s, a nationwide reform movement sprang up in opposition to "tracking," the controversial practice of schools grouping students by ability and organizing curriculum by level of difficulty. Officials in two states, Massachusetts and California, adopted policies urging middle schools to reduce or abandon tracking. In this book, Tom Loveless describes how schools reacted to these recommendations and discusses why some schools went along with detracking while others bitterly resisted the reform.

Loveless explains that the state policies were adopted without strict mandates, financial incentives, legal threats, or new bureaucratic structures. They were also adopted without convincing evidence that detracking brings lasting benefits to students. But advocates framed tracking reform as a policy supporting greater educational equity. In response, urban schools, low-achieving schools, and schools serving disadvantaged children have reacted sympathetically to the reform. Suburban schools, high-achieving schools, and schools serving wealthier families have been less willing to detrack.

Drawing on extensive survey and case study data, Loveless concludes that this reform's fate is in the hands of local decisionmakers. Schools formulate tracking policy based on their own institutional, organizational, political, and technical considerations. All school reform entails risks. One troubling implication of this study is that the risks of detracking are being assumed by schools with some of society's most vulnerable youngsters.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"...an original and important perspective on tracking....clear theory, well grounded in research and knowledge of the field; solid and suggestive data from a variety of cources; and, a special gift in this field, clear, jargon-free writing. This book will be a durable contribution to the literature on tracking, as well as to the broader literature on how to do research on the reciprocal relationship between policies and complex institutions." —Richard Elmore, Harvard University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815753056
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 7/9/1999
  • Pages: 210
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Loveless is director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of the annual Brown Center Reports on American Education.

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Table of Contents

1 Implementing Tracking Reform 1
2 The Origins of Tracking Reform 12
3 The Schools Respond 41
4 Influences on Tracking Policy 58
5 Governing Reform 87
6 Tracking and the Subject Area 115
7 The Classroom, the Teacher, and Tracking Reform 133
8 The Fate of Reform 150
App. A. The Study's Methods and Data 157
App. B. Statistical Issues in Chapter 4 163
Notes 167
Index 187
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