To Track or Not to Track? Outcomes of Serving All Students in the Same Classroom

Teaching (2)

Today is the first post in a short series about some of my favorite current and past colleagues reflecting on this past year’s teaching experiences. This first entry comes from Dr. Taylor Cross who shares insights gained from his recent research.

By Dr. Taylor Cross

“When I was in high school growing up in the northeast Georgia mountains, I was in ‘honors’ or “accelerated” classes. I didn’t put myself there; it just happened…. Who I mostly did not have classes with were the students whose parents were the hourly blue collar workers, most of which had not gone to college, and some who had no real concept of what a college education would look like.”

When I was in high school growing up in the northeast Georgia mountains, I was in “honors” or “accelerated” classes. I didn’t put myself there; it just happened. I don’t think at the time I really processed what that meant or why I was in those classes, but I knew generally that I was “smart” and that the other kids in my classes were also “smart”. In these classes the other kids were, for the most part, other kids whose parents went to college, like mine did. Their parents were the lawyers, business-owners, realtors, medical professionals, educators, etc., that kept our little town churning along. Most of these kids’ families weren’t originally from this small town, but had found their way to it by virtue of job placements.

Who I mostly did not have classes with were the students whose parents were the hourly blue collar workers, most of which had not gone to college, and some who had no real concept of what a college education would look like. The majority of these students’ families had lived in this area for generations, and the culture of many of them was native Appalachian. I was “sheltered” from these students because as a student who had shown academic promise, I was lumped with others like me. As a matter of fact, when I look back in my high school yearbook, I don’t recognize about half of the students I see because I never had classes with them, even though my school was very small.

This was my high school education experience. I was put in classes with other kids “like” me because it was perceived that putting us together would benefit us, and having the kids who were “unlike” us together would be right for them. This is also what the majority of schools across America do today with their core subjects to a large degree. They track their gifted and talented students together, and they group their average and struggling students together. Is this good? Is it a problem? Do these situations truly benefit the students who are separated from one another? These are complicated questions for which the answers can vary from context to context. Continue reading