unflag~g in their enthusiasm artd .impport from the first idea for the
study to the final revision of the manu~cript Paul Heckman listened
carefully, asked challenging questions, and always managed to protect
the time and place for me to work. Ken Sirotnik not only provided me
with technical help in the design ;md analysis phases of the study but
shared with me his profound understanding of the complex substantive
issues that underly methodological decisions as well And, of course,
John J_ Goodlad, principal investigator of A Study of Schooling, director
of the Laboratory in School and Community Education, and former dean
of the Graduate School o~ Education at UCLA, created an atmosphere
of trust and intellectual freedom in which all of us could pursue ideas
and explore new directions. .
Finally, I would like to thank my family who made home a friendly
place to work. My daughters, Lisa and Tracy Oakes, were kind enough
to consider what their mother was working on important. My husband,
Martin Lipton, was a wise and gentle counselor. His insightful suggestions for both the substance and the style of thi:5book are reflected
throughout Of course, as significant as these people's contributions were,
the responsibility for the views that follow remains with me. ·
Looking back, or looking casually from the outside in, the events of junior and senior high school appear like a complex but well-choreographed
series of much-practiced and often-repeated steps. Each student performs a set_routine, nearly if not completely identical to that of his
schoolmates. 'Even the stumblings, bumpings, and confusions seem so
predictable and occur with such regularity that chance alone cannot
explain them. Day in and day out. the rhythm continues, the tight
schedule of slow hours in class interrupted by the hurried frenzy of 5 or
7 or g•/4minutes between-a few noisy moments of juggling textbooks
and notebooks stuffed with worksheets and answers to a string of ques tions at the end of some chapter, minutes of half-finished conversations,
partly made plans-and then the rush to be somewhere else on time. In
class there is the near-silent, almost attentive listening and the seemingly endless talk of teacher: "Get out your books. Yes, I said get out
your boo,ks.Now open to page 73 ... 73 ... 73. Yes, that was page 73.
Yes. Now, if you w~ take out some paper ... yes, you'll need a pencil.
No, this won't be handed in, but I'll check it at the end of the period.
Page·73. Could you put away your comb, please? Now, on page 73 . ... "
Heads bent over books and answer sheets. students wait for the bell or
for an interruption-a forgotten announcement. a call slip from the office, a fue drill, or some other break in the constant, repetitive motion.
And of course there is daydreaming, meditation to the sweep of the
sprinklers outside, sidelong_glances at the hint of whiskers growing iml
·,, "'/ ,•- •.!,_' ,••••
• .,- -• .
' ~-; • • . ,~,,
•·•, •• ' '
perceptibly longer on a nearby adolescent chin, and the w.ondering if
· teachers go to bars after school or quietly slip into a closet after the last
period and wait until morning.
There is learning, too. It seems as though everyone plows through
geometric proofs, Julius Caesar, the causes of the Civil War, and the
elements of the scientific method, but not with too much attention until
just before exams. Some of us may even remember a handful of moments--not many, to be sure--when we forgot our adolescent selves
enough to be absorbed in learning until the next bell sent us running to
our lockers to get our smelly gym clothes before we missed the pus. And
somehow things get learned ·and kids get smarter, test scores get better,
essays get longer, problems get solved, constitutional amendments and
the three branches of the federal government get memorized, leaves get
labeled. frogs cut up, and cin and on.
So it goes, year after year. School counselors, only semivisible most
of the time, emerge periodic.ally to sort through the maze of classes and
students until somehow everyone has a class arrange.d for every hour for
the following year. And so the dance continues with only slight variations on the dominant theme of sameness.
Isn't and wasn't it the same for everyone? Yes ... and no.
..:. .:•i -
This book is about schools and what students experien _ce in th~.
More precisely, it is about twenty-five junior and senior high schools anq;
about some of the experiences of 13,719 teenagers who attended thoi,~
schools. A sameness permeated those experiences. Yet underneath this
cloak of sameness the day.stQ:-A~Y..iJives
of these students were quite lieved that daily classroom exposure to bright students has negative conJ•""
,_...sequences for slower on~. A th~~ assumption is that th~ placem~nt
~ .,, 14
processes used to separate students mto groups both accurately and fairly
, t, \
reflect past achievements and native abilities. Part of this assumption
too is that these placement decisions are appropriate for future learning,
"9 r f
"...,,,.. i, I.a.,,.
·,l , 1·
either in a single class or for whole cours
. th . _eso study (e.g., academic or
-~·veruon is at It 1s
modate indiViduaJ difii
easier ~or teachers to accomerences m homogeneo
eral, groups of similar stud t
us groups or that, in genTh
en s are easier to teach and manage
ere may be other assumption
;~~~ese are the
premises in support of tracking practi:e:\
Well, what about these assumptions?
Because we base so much of h
that they be carefully studi d S w at we o on ~em, it seems essential
pirical eVidence from rese:~h ::~can ~e exarrune~ by looking at emflective analyses with a hist .
es. _thers require thoughtful, repolitical context of school. ;r~~!~~~ective_ sens~~ve to the ~oci~ and
order to discover how our implicit thin~qurre cnttcal ~xammation in
!ices that are contrary to th
g may be leadmg us to pracwith students Thi . h e ways m which we would choose to work
s Is w at we are about to do here.
Despite the fact that the first assu
or better in homogeneous group -· =tion-:that
students learn more
not true: Or, at least, we have
ost uru~ersally held, it is simply
indicating that homo
. . y mountains of research evidence
learn better Over th!e;:~s_groupmg doesn't consistently help anyone
conducted ~n the effects ofsixbtili'!.
years hu_ndreds of studies have been
a ty groupmg and tra kin
learning. These studies have looked at various kind ;
g ~n student
sured different kinds of leamin
s o groupmgs, rneaages and grades. Th tudi
g,. an :on_s.ideredstudents at different
es vary m therr size and · h ·
m t err methodology.
Some are quite sophisticated
certain specifics but one c '
ra er crude. The results differ in
dents has be
one us10n emerges clearly.;__
~gro!:P of_stu---·--..- A-~few
st di- consistentl
·°Jl. ..- ... Y....from
the brightest learn more whu ethss ow that those students identified as
en ey are taught in a
f th •
and provided an enriched c· . l
group o err peers,
uncu um. owever
ies have found that the le.,~;
• mos o not Some stud....,...ng o students identifi d b •
or low, has not been harmed by th . 1
. e as emg average
However, many studies have fou: pd;~~;ent_ m homogeneous groups.
am.mg of average and slow
students to be negatively affe t d b h
c e Y omogeneous placements 1
acade ~ net result of all these studies of the relationship of tracking and
Ill.leoutcomes for students is a conclusion contr
ary to the widely
held assumptions about it W
dents are not held back wh·e ~ can ~ fair~y confident that bright stun ey are m Jll.lXedclassrooms. And we can
be quite· certain that the deficiencies of slower students are not more
easily remediated when they are grouped together . And, given the evidence, we are unable to support the general belief that students learn
best when they are grouped together with others like themselves.
Toe second assumption - that students, especially the slower ones,
feel more positively about themselves and school when they are in homogeneous groupS-.:-includ~ a number of other premises as well.kWe
often hear that classroom competition with bright students is discouraging to slower ones and may lead to lowered self-esteem, disruptive
behavior, and alienation from ·school Many who support tracking do so
because they are conviriced it will prevent these problems.
During the past twenty years, several researchers have investigated
these claims. Once again, the evidence we have about the relationship
between tracking and student attitudes and behaviors shows something
quite different fr ...
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