The history of tracking students in public education goes back to the early part of the 1900′s. By the 20′s and 30′s, curricula in high schools had evolved into four different types: college-preparatory, vocational (e.g., plumbing, metal work, electrical, auto), trade-oriented (e.g., accounting, secretarial), and general. Students were tracked into the various curricula based on IQ and other standardized test scores as well as other criteria. By the mid-60’s, Mirel (1993) documents that most of the predominantly black high schools in Detroit had become “general track” institutions that consisted of watered down curricula and “needs based” courses that catered to student interests and life relevance. Social promotion had become the norm within the general track, in which the philosophy was to demand as little as possible of the students.In my experience, when a school opts for "differentiated instruction," parents have no way to know whether their children are being taught the same curriculum as other children -- especially since differentiated instruction tends to go hand-in-hand with a reduction in quizzes and tests and the introduction of "standards-based" report cards parents don't know how to interpret.
By the early 80’s, the “Back to Basics” movement formed to turn back the educational fads and extremes of the late 60’s and the 70’s and reinstitute traditional subjects and curricula. The underlying ideas of the progressives did not go away, however, and the watchword has continued to be equal education for all. While such a goal is laudable, the attempt to bring equity to education by eliminating tracking had the unintended consequence of replacing it with another form of inequity: the elimination of grouping of students according to ability. Thus, students who were poor at reading were placed in classes with students who were advanced readers; students who were not proficient in basic arithmetic were placed in algebra classes. Ability grouping was viewed as a vestige of tracking and many in the education establishment consider the two concepts to be synonymous.
The elimination of ability grouping occurs mostly in the lower grades but also extends to early courses in high school. The practice of such full inclusion is now so commonplace that theories have emerged to justify its practice and to address the problems it brings. “Learning styles” and “multiple intelligences” are now commonplace terms that are taught in schools of education, along with the technique known as “differentiated instruction” to address how to teach students with diverse backgrounds and ability in the subject matter. Teachers are expected to “differentiate instruction” to each student, and to keep whole-group instruction to a minimum. To do this, the teacher gives a “mini-lesson” that lasts 10 to 15 minutes; then students work in small groups and told to work together. The prevailing belief is that by forcing students to solve problems in groups, to rely on each other rather than the teacher, the techniques and concepts needed to solve the problem will emerge through discovery, and students will be forced to learn what is needed in a “just in time” basis. This amounts to giving students easy problems, but with hard and sometimes impossible approaches since they have been given little to no effective instruction to the mathematics that results in effective mathematics problem solvers.
Brighter students are seated with students of lower ability in the belief that the brighter students will teach the slower ones what is needed. And frequently this occurs, though the fact that the brighter students are often obtaining their knowledge via parents, tutors or learning centers is an inconvenient truth that is rarely if ever acknowledged. The result is that brighter students are bored, and slower students are either lost, or seek explanations from those students in the know. Another inconvenient truth is that in lower income communities, there are unlikely to be students who have obtained their knowledge through outside sources; they are entirely dependent on their schools.
Through the efforts and philosophies of otherwise well-meaning individuals, full inclusion and equality for all has served as a form of tracking.
Protecting Students from Learning: Raymond
by Barry Garelick
A less-able child is treated equally in the sense of being placed in a classroom with more-able children.
But is the less-able child taught the same curriculum?
Is the less-able child given the same problems to do?
And, if he is given the same problems but can't do them, what then?
In Singapore, somewhere around 4th or 5th grade, less able children are given more time in the day to master the curriculum. Equality means that all children are taught the same curriculum.