My previous post on tracking raised some good questions, and so I will follow up with some further thoughts on why I think tracking is the NUMBER ONE reason why the public pre-secondary schools have failed a majority of public school students, as seen in unprepared college students and the flurry of state standardized tests that have hamstrung the academic freedom of elementary and secondary teachers and their principals to educate effectively their students.
In my previous post, I mentioned that I was tracked early, in second grade. But my elementary school, New Piti Elementary School in Guam, implemented tracking differently from what gets done today. All students had the same curricular track, depending on what grade they were. That meant kindgarteners had the kindergarten curriculum, first graders had the first grade curriculum, and so on and so on, throughout the grades, in this case, up to sixth grade. They were all in the same classroom, whether Gifted and Talented (GT) or not.
After lunch, those pegged as GT had to take an *extra* class, GT class, while the non-GT students had an extra period of recess. The non-GT students and GT students then returned to their same home classroom for the rest of the day.
In the home classroom, the teacher encouraged group interaction. I remember understanding my lessons very quickly while a friend of mine, Eva Marie, struggled. Even then (I was in fourth grade), I suspected Eva Marie was “slow.” Didn’t matter — when I was finished with my work, I walked over to Eva Marie and helped her with hers. I wasn’t the only “fast” student who did this. It was part of the rules of the classroom. Students helped each other, freeing up the teacher to focus his or her teaching towards general overview and then one-on-one teaching as needed.
It made for a loud class. It was NEVER boring. I can’t recall a single class in New Piti in which I didn’t have fun. And nobody ever felt left out or humiliated for being a “dummy” because the classrooms were small and we did everything together. We were a community, almost like a family. Those students who needed “official” extra help (as in a counselor or special ed teacher) got it *in class* — the educational jargon for that is called “inclusion.” But, with all the support that kid got in class with his classmates and teacher helping him or her, that “official” help was a rare thing.
I didn’t see another example of that kind of classroom until I reached COLLEGE. On the college level, there’s no tracking either. In the community college that I teach at, there’s only one kind of ENGL 1301, freshman Composition I. No “Honors” ENGL 1301. No “Regular” ENGL 1301. Just ENGL 1301. I have students of various degrees of reading and writing ability in ENGL 1301. For some, ENGL 1301 will be a “pud” class, an easy A. For some, ENGL 1301 will cause them nightmares as they work their ass off, getting that C. I have students peer-tutor each other, which happens naturally since I teach in a computer classroom and students help each other figure out the computers. In other words, my community college has a core curriculum of only one track which EVERYBODY takes. The differences of classes comes in ONLY for electives and declared fields of study.
The same with my undergrad university, the University of Dallas. EVERYBODY, irrespective of major, had to take the core classes, and there was only ONE kind of core classes. None of this “Honors” crap. No tracking. The core classes were hard, but such was the nature of being a University of Dallas student. Study groups spontaneously formed outside of the classroom. We helped each other. And, again, the differences of classes came in with electives and declared majors.
I ask you: If the non-tracking system is good for the post-secondary level, then shouldn’t it be good enough for the pre-secondary level?
And, historically speaking, the US public school system used to have this and abandoned it for non-academic-excellence reasons, that is, the self-esteem of the student. Self-esteem? Are we trying to educate our children or trying to make them feel comfortable in their ignorance? For nothing is as uncomfortable as learning something brand-spanking new. But it builds character, and, as cognitive science has shown, literally builds brains.
All I’m advocating is a return to our non-tracking (or, to use education-speak “one tracking”) past. We already have the curriculum in place — the GT/Honors/AP curriculum. We already have students taking those classes and graduating, usually in the top percentile of their class. All I’m asking is to expand the enrollment franchise, to have ALL students have that curriculum as well. It’ll simplify textbooks, educational materials, and teacher education. Students won’t be academically segregated, as well as teachers.
Of course, like in the college-level, we’ll always have good teachers and mediocre teachers. But then we can justly blame the teachers delivering the curriculum mediocre-ly because there is no mediocre curriculum to blame. The era of “good” teachers itching to teach Honors classes, leaving the mediocre teachers to teach the Regular classes, will be gone as ALL teachers must have the ability to teach an academically rigorous curriculum.
Only inertia prevents a principal, a superintendant, a school board, or a state school agency from implementing this. Absolutist mandates in curriculum happens all the time — state-mandated standardized tests, anyone? So eliminating tracking so that only one academically rigorous curriculum remains depends on the will of those who have the authority to make those changes.
That’s the real obstacle to school reform. We have the solution at hand. But, looking at the infighting and corruption as seen in, oh say, the Wilmer-Hutchins ISD and the Dallas ISD, the folks in charge don’t seem to have true school reform as a real priority, even if the solution is “D’OH!” simple.
And that’s a damn shame.