Tracking and inequality

New directions for research and practice

Authored by: Adam Gamoran

The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  December  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415486637
eBook ISBN: 9780203863701
Adobe ISBN: 9781135179717

10.4324/9780203863701.ch19

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Abstract

For more than a century, educators and researchers have debated the merits of separating students for instruction into different tracks, classes, and groups, according to their purported interests and abilities (for historical perspectives, see Loveless, 1998, 1999; Oakes, 2005; Oakes et al., 1992; Powell et al., 1985). The practice, known as “tracking” and “ability grouping” in the US and “streaming” and “setting” in the UK, is intended to create conditions in which teachers can efficiently target instruction to students’ needs.2 Despite this intended benefit, tracking has been widely criticized as inegalitarian, because students in high tracks tend to widen their achievement advantages over their low-track peers, and because measures of school performance commonly used to assign students to tracks typically coincide with the broader bases of social disadvantage such as race/ethnicity and social class, leading to economically and/or ethnically segregated classrooms. Yet tracking has been highly resistant to lasting change and remains in wide use in various forms in the US, the UK, and in school systems around the world.

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