Why this site?
A friend of mine spent years working on detracking her department. For most of that time, she thought that she and her department were alone– that they were one of the only departments to be attempting detracking. In reality, she wasn’t alone. Nor was her school. Teachers, site leaders, and parents across the country are working on detracking but they have no place to share their work or build connections. The purpose of this site is to build a community of people interested in detracking and to make research on tracking and best practices from practitioners available to everyone.
In Brown vs the Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that separate was not equal. While that ruling applied to between school segregation, we believe it also applies to segregation within schools. At the end of the 19th century, when tracking began, we openly placed students in track based on their race and class (Oakes, 2005). More than a hundred years later, tracking is continuing to segregate students within schools. Black, Latinx, and low-income students continue to be disproportionately placed in lower track courses (Corra, Scott, & Carter, 2011; Muller et al., 2010). Advanced Placement and honors courses continue to be racially identifiable (Rowland & Shircliffe, 2016). As schools become more racially diverse, they also become more tracked with White students attending the higher level courses and Black and Latinx students attending the lower level courses (Lucas & Berends, 2007). Students in lower level courses have less access to rich learning opportunities and to high status knowledge (Burris, 2014; Oakes, 2005).
Segregation harms students. Segregation is associated with higher drop out rates, less desire to live and work with people who are different from you, and more prejudice (Mickelson, Nkomo, & Wimberly, 2012). Segregation happens not just between schools and districts, but within schools in the form of academic tracking. In order to create schools of equity for all students, we need to address the inequities created by tracking.
To learn more about the history of tracking, check out our history page.
Defining our terms
Almost half a year into her teacher’s working group on detracking, Maika Watanabe realized that, while all of the teachers had the same formal definition of detracking, they had widely varying operational definitions. Some teachers saw their school as detracked because students could choose what courses they took. Others saw the school as deeply tracked because different levels of courses were offered at each grade level and the classes were racially identifiable. These differences in views existed despite months of reading about and discussing detracking (Watanabe, 2007). Our goal is to create as much clarity as possible about terms now to prevent confusion later. For those who go on to explore our research pages, just know that researchers rarely define these terms in their writing and could have different definitions than what we are using here.
According to Carol Burris (2014), “Tracking is the sorting of students within a school or district that results in different access to academic curriculum and the opportunity to learn” (p.3).
According to Kimberly LaPrade (2011), “Detracking is the process of dismantling institutional and organizational structures or instructional barriers that sort students according to ability” (p.742)
Ability grouping is homogeneous grouping that occurs within a classroom. Often parents are not informed about ability grouping and the rigidity of ability grouping will vary between teachers.