Evaluating De-tracking Reform in the USA and Their Transfer into the Czech Education System


27 May 2015, 14:30 – 15:30

Markéta Holubová

In many developed countries students encounter curricular differentiation and are sorted into groups, classes and schools as they progress through the educational system. This sorting (tracking) is based on some kind of indicators of students´ intellectual ability which is measured by e.g. IQ tests, subject–matter tests or by estimation, e.g. evaluation by teachers. Although the ‘tracking discourse’ is international, we have to bear in mind that the forms of tracking differ from nation to nation.

In the United States the tracking students into different classes and tracks has a long tradition. Originally, the high school students were assigned to academic, general, or vocational tracks within individual schools. They were educated in the comprehensive schools which sorted students into groups for high, middle and low achievers. By the end of the 1980s, concerns about tracking had entered the popular discourse and influenced public policy goals (Oakes 2005). Leading policy groups made recommendations for eliminating tracking practices, and many school reformers took action. De-tracking reforms led to the debates which were known as ‘tracking wars’.

The US researchers (e.g. Rosenbaum 1976; Oakes 1985; Gamoran and Mare 1989) focused on mechanisms of track effects on achievement and increased inequality without benefits to productivity. Tracking students into different classes was associated with increasing inequalities in educational outcomes between high and low achievers (e. g. Gamoran 1987, 1992; Lucas and Gamoran 2002).  Oakes (1985) claimed that tracking violates a social justice standard that assures individuals and groups equitable access to educational resources and opportunities. De-tracking had to remove huge obstacles standing in the way of success for students (particularly students of color from low-income families) across the country.

As a Fulbright visiting scholar I had an opportunity to conduct the qualitative research at the Pennsylvania State University and focused my research on de-tracking discourse of American schooling. During my stay in the USA I collected semi-structured interviews with people who have experience with process of de-tracking reforms at American schools or whose lives are still influenced by tracking strategies and rules in American schooling.  From their perspective I will describe the current situation of de-tracking in the USA which focuses on the questions how American school abandon conventional tracking practices and how the de-tracking influences students´ education in American high school. I will also compare the tracking discourse in the USA with the Czech one. I will focus on it how the Czech policymakers, educators and researchers solve early tracking in the Czech Republic and how we can be inspired by research findings from American surveys.

  • Gamoran, A. (1987). The stratification of high school learning opportunities, American Sociological Review, 135-155.
  • Gamoran, A. (1992). The variable effects of high school tracking, American Sociological Review, 812-828.
  • Gamoran, A. & Mare, R. D. (1989). Secondary school tracking and educational inequality: compensation, reinforcement, or neutrality?, American Journal of Sociology 94. 1146-1183.
  • Loveless, T. (1998). The tracking and ability grouping debate, Washington, DC: Fordham Institute.
  • Lucas, S.R. & Berends, M. (2002): Sociodemographic diversity, correlated achievement, and de facto tracking, Sociology of Education 75, 328-348.
  • Oakes, J. (1985; 2005). Keeping track: How schools structure inequality, CT: Yale University Press. New Heaven.
  • Rosenbaum, J. (1976): Making inequality: The hidden curriculum of high school tracking. New York: Willey.

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