The perniciousness of tracking
Although it is good that Dana Goldstein openly used the word “tracking” —which is almost always a forbidden term in “polite” public education discourse—she has a naïve idea of tracking in the creation of the US “comprehensive high schools,” saying they emerged historically as a “compromise” between those favoring trade schools for Negro students and those favoring university liberal education. The history of US education shows that tracking is what can be characterized as the “evil genius” of the evolving US educational system, which consistently transmits race and class privilege over the generations (now called “the stubborn Achievement Gap”), while maintaining the fiction of “equal opportunity.”
At major historical junctures when a new group of disadvantaged citizens (Negroes, working-class whites, women, etc.) begins pushing for access for higher levels of schooling, decision-makers create new tracking systems (touted as what the new groups “need”) to divert the unwashed masses away from the elite levels of schooling. Now that there are huge numbers of Latinos graduating from high school and clamoring for access to college admissions (see the Dream Act struggles), one might ask rhetorically, will the US elites gladly open up their wallets and open up significant seats in four-year colleges for them? Not on your life—instead they push the ever-growing systems of community colleges (see The Diverted Dream: Community Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America 1900–1985, by Steven Brint, and “The Cooling-out Function in Higher Education,” by Burton R. Clark [PDF]), which aim to “divert the main herd” away from the selective colleges. And President Obama tries to persuade the most naïve in his Latino and working-class audiences that community colleges will solve the US economic crisis, and he is throwing a piddly $4 billion at them for “experiments” to find what might work to improve their well-known and persistently dismal record of getting their students through to transfer to four-year colleges. Tracking between types of schools and colleges, tracking between schools in wealthy/poor neighborhoods, within schools and “ability grouping” within individual classrooms—Tracking is the Man.
Progressives cannot afford to keep quiet about it and accept that career education is what the new groups “need” in order to stay in their place.
Jul 7 2011 - 12:39pm