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» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » Tracking in public schools

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Author Topic: Tracking in public schools
philnotfil
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Fordham Institute

quote:
1 Tremendous change has occurred in tracking since the 1990s. Nearly twenty years ago, eighthgrade students attended tracked classes for most of the day. They now spend most of their day in detracked classes. An eighth grader in the early 1990s attended middle schools offering at least two distinct tracks in (each of) English language arts, history, and science. Mathematics courses were organized into three or more tracks. The eighth grader of 2008, however, attended schools with much less tracking. English language arts, history, and science are essentially detracked, i.e., schools typically offer a single course that serves students at every level of achievement and ability. Mathematics usually features two tracks, often algebra and a course for students not yet ready for algebra.

2 Several factors influence tracking policy. Why do some schools continue to track while others have detracked in favor of heterogeneous grouping? Several factors are influential. Schools serving predominantly poor populations are more likely to have stopped tracking. Those serving students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are more apt to have retained tracking. A school’s grade configuration also matters. Mimicking high schools, middle schools serving grades 7 and 8 are more likely to embrace tracking compared with their grade 5-8 and 6-8 counterparts. Finally, schools in which parents wield greater influence tend to keep tracking in place, as do schools in communities where local school boards have discussed the topic.

3 Detracking is more prevalent in urban, high poverty schools. Urban schools with children of lower socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to detrack than suburban schools with children of higher SES. Consequently, the risks associated with detracking are concentrated in urban schools serving large numbers of poor, low-achieving children.

4 Detracking Carries Risks for High-Achieving Students. The study compared the percentage of students achieving at the advanced level on the MCAS in tracked and untracked schools. There was no difference in English language arts. However, with school-level SES held constant, each additional track level in eighth-grade math (up to three) is associated with a 3 percentage-point gain in students scoring at the advanced level. That means a school with 200 eighth graders that offers at least three levels of math is typically attended by twelve more students scoring at the advanced level than a detracked school of similar size and SES status. The study cannot link tracking policy causally to this outcome but, combined with previous research on the effects of detracking, it serves as a caution to schools and policymakers that detracking may adversely affect high-achieving
students.

Removing tracking does seem to be an effective way of closing the achievement gap. [Smile]
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The Drake
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The real question is why education isn't getting more customized to the student's current level of ability, with a plan to challenge each student?


I'd say it is because a focus on minimum competency and graduation threshold does not reward teachers or schools for maximizing the potential of gifted students. Only those schools with "extra" resources can afford to do more than the brutal minimum.

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philnotfil
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The current system doesn't reward teachers or schools for maximizing the potential of any students.
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Pyrtolin
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I'd say that the bigger problem is that the schools don't have the resources to provide enough teachers to pull that off for more than a few top students.

The push toward performance pay is promising, but there's a more fundamental need to get more good teachers in the field across the board.

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PSRT
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When you can figure out how to reward teacher performance based on the quality of the teacher, then performance based pay makes sense. I'm not sure anyone has a good idea how to objectively measure the quality of an individual teacher, though.
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JoshuaD
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quote:
Originally posted by PSRT:
When you can figure out how to reward teacher performance based on the quality of the teacher, then performance based pay makes sense. I'm not sure anyone has a good idea how to objectively measure the quality of an individual teacher, though.

I don't understand the need for fully objective systems; we have mid-level managers for a reason. Pull together a set of decent metrics and then leave it to the principals.

It's not a perfect system, and if someone else can find better I'm all ears, but this is a first good step towards helping students.

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PSRT
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So what is a decent set of metrics?

Example of why performance based pay can be a problem:

A recent proposal in Boston would have had teachers compensated for students who achieve high scores on an AP test. Most students in Boston do not take any AP courses. This proposal would have left teachers FIGHTING to teach the AP courses, because only a select few teachers would have the opportunity to earn that bonus money. And what about the teachers who do not teach AP courses, for reasons out of their control? Are they going to be as effective as they would otherwise be? I doubt it. "Well, we have this bonus money, but you're not eligible," is not good for moral, OR encouraging improvement in teachers who are not excellent educators. Just the opposite, in fact.

I haven't seen any proposal that doesn't have the same, or similar, pitfalls. When someone comes up with something that is reasonable, fair, and promotes education, I'm all ears.

The first step actually has to HELP students. Merit based pay does not, necessarily, do that. Largely because we don't really know what an excellent educator looks like. Its kinda like porn: "I know it when I see it." We know what some of the student outcomes are for students who have excellent educatorS, but not necessarily an excellent singular educator.

[ December 15, 2009, 04:53 PM: Message edited by: PSRT ]

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The Drake
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incentives are always tricky, and a bad incentive can be worse than no incentive. Right now, the only motivation for tenured teachers and entrenched administrators is to not get hassled by the parents of their students and an altruistic dedication to teaching.

I'd generally be in favor of an all-star ballot type system where students, parents, and colleagues all cast votes for the most effective teachers.

Anything based on test scores is BCS type bullcrap. Rewards can't be based on a formula in this profession.

But one-size-fits-all education can never achieve the goal of maximizing potential, except for the slowest student in the class.

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PSRT
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quote:
Right now, the only motivation for tenured teachers and entrenched administrators is to not get hassled by the parents of their students and an altruistic dedication to teaching.
There is actually no mechanism anywhere in the system to encourage failing a student who has not demonstrated they understand the material. This is a serious problem.

Also, watch out about talking about tenure. It doesn't exist in many states anymore.

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Clark
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There are a gazillion businesses and industries that have figured out how to do performance based rewards for their employees. I don't see why public education would be any easier or harder than the rest of them. It doesn't even need to be done on a state level. Let it happen school district by school district.

As bad as the BCS is for college football (and believe me, I want to see it destroyed) it doesn't do a terrible job of ordering football teams. It doesn't work for college football because it is intended to pick a single winner (well, a pair, really) and the drop off between 2nd and 3rd place is very significant. The same wouldn't be true for teachers. If the 2nd best teacher unfortunately gets ranked 7th and gets only the 7th biggest raise, that's not a catastrophe. Even an imperfect ranking system would still be an improvement over a system that rewards the best teacher the same as the one barely doing the minimum to not induce any lawsuits.

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PSRT
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Clark, part of the problem is that most businesses are rewarding people based on what they do and how it benefits the company. Separating out what a single teacher does from the other factors that impact a student's learning is rather difficult. No one that I've seen has a good idea on how to do it. That doesn't mean there are not good ideas on how to do it out there, but I've seen a fair number of proposals and most of them look like they would have a negative effect on overall learning.
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Dave at Work
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Unlike "most companies", teachers are usually unionized. Perhaps if a school district and the union for its teachers got together to try and figure out such a system, they could scour the worst elements each would demand from the resulting policy and try it out for say 3 to 5 years and see what happens. Then take a look at the results, adjust and try again. Get enough school districts and unions doing this and comparing notes and I think you would eventually evolve a good system, or perhaps several good systems.
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KidB
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What you do for your company usually involves a much narrower set of considerations than what a teacher does in order to "perform." There are too many unquantifiables/intangibles in "good" teaching.

This also can be true in the work world, in jobs that require more authority and initiative - which is why there is no easy metric for finding a CEO or what have you.

[ December 15, 2009, 06:34 PM: Message edited by: KidB ]

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KidB
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In general, the obsession with "metrics" *is* the problem. Not that kids shouldn't be graded - it's debatable, anyway - it its far more important to bring back the idea that education should be an introduction to culture and reasoning and not some early step on the "skills for technocracy" factory-line.

[ December 15, 2009, 06:37 PM: Message edited by: KidB ]

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PSRT
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quote:
In general, the obsession with "metrics" *is* the problem. Not that kids shouldn't be graded - it's debatable, anyway - it its far more important to bring back the idea that education should be an introduction to culture and reasoning and not some early step on the "skills for technocracy" factory-line.
Completely agree here. Every quarter, when report cards are due, I rant and rave about grades.

My "big fix," to improve schools would be to require students to pass a "mastery test," before moving to the next level. They could take the test anytime (say, offer a sitting once a month) and as soon as you pass, move up a level. Whether it be in writing, reading, math, science, whatever. The idea that all 8 year old kids should be in "third grade," is ludicrous.

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Daruma28
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The idea that all 8 year old kids should be in "third grade," is ludicrous.

Only if you believe the entire mythos behind what the public education supposedly exists to do.

what it actually does? Why, it makes perfect sense! Children are taught at a young age to KNOW YOUR PLACE.

YOU ARE DEFINED AND ASSIGNED AND DON'T THINK YOU HAVE ANY CONTROL OVER IT. SUBMIT AND CONFORM TO THE VARIOUS WAYS IN WHICH THE SYSTEM CATEGORIZES, MARGINALIZES AND ULTIMATELY USES YOU.

Tracked or untracked, what really needs to happen is a complete revolution on this entire, bloated, bureaucratic mess designed to dumb down the masses.

To end it is the ONLY way to "mend" it.

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ken_in_sc
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When I took the Teacher Certification Test, Praxis, several years ago, one of the questions addressed tracking and asked why it was no longer used in most public schools. The study guide I used said the correct answer was ‘because parents will not accept this form of discrimination’. One of the incorrect answers was, ’studies have shown that tracking is ineffective in fostering student learning’.
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