Detracking for Excellence and Equity
By Carol Corbett Burris and Delia T. Garrity
Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School (IN)
Teacher Leaders Network
What are the indicators that a book has made a significant contribution within its discipline? It’s one that challenges and moves the reader to take notice of the information, internalize it, and act upon the new knowledge and one the reader quotes and reflects upon long after reading it. Detracking for Excellence and Equity by Burris and Garrity is such a book! For example, read these compelling claims by the authors:
Whether or not you agree with the previous statements, you must read this book. Burris and Garrity are persuasive and credible because they support their assertions with research and firsthand experience as former teachers and current administrators in New York.
“Tracking, by its very nature, causes the achievement gap to widen.”
In a tracked system, the “talents of late bloomers go undiscovered.”
“Track movement occurs in a downward direction far more frequently than it does in an upward direction.”“When schools are determined to level the playing field for disadvantaged students and ensure that all have access to their finest curriculum, students begin to see college and career possibilities that before seemed out of reach.”
“The reality is that you can’t close the achievement gap until you close the curriculum gap that is created by tracking.”
“The practice of tracking is based on the belief that the capacity to learn is shaped by biology ad childhood environment, and that there is little that schools can do to affect learning capacity.”
They’ve witnessed the achievement gap and apathy that occur as a result of tracking. They worked for a superintendent who claimed that “By the year 2000, 75% of all South Side High School students will earn a Regents diploma” — quite a bold statement given it represented a 17% increase from the number of students receiving the Regents diploma when superintendent William H. Johnson set the goal in 1993. By 2000, 84% of South Side H.S. students earned a Regents diploma and in 2005 that number increased to 97% as a result of a systematic and purposeful elimination of tracked courses.
In their book Detracking for Excellence and Equity, Burris and Garrity define tracking, debunk the myths associated with it, tackle the politics of detracking, and address how to dismantle tracking and develop an effective curriculum process, support teachers, and maintain reform.
Chapter 4, which is perhaps the most compelling chapter, outlines the “Three Ps” that sustain tracking: prejudice (intellectual, racial, and socio-economic), prestige (teacher, parent, and student), and power (parent, teacher, administrator, and board member). Once a school leader has been able to identify resistant stakeholders in the community and confront their deep-seeded myths and fear with various types of data, many people emerge with a greater understanding of detracking and the educational obstacles associated with it. The authors acknowledge that “the most difficult phase of detracking is when a school begins to question its assumptions and beliefs about teaching practices” but frequently reinforce that it is important to differentiate the learning experiences but not the standards or learning objectives.
The authors’ coverage of detracking is so comprehensive that it leaves readers with far more answers than questions — while simultaneously inspiring us to improve the educational opportunities for students at our local schools. Upon finishing the book, one is left cheering for Garrity and Burris as they claim, “By altering our methods of instruction in heterogeneous classes, we can accomplish what tracking never could — excellent educational experiences for all students.”