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Oakes - Restructuring Schools for Equity What We Have...

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Keeping Track, Part 1: The Policy and Practice Of Curriculum Inequality BY JEANNIE OAKES The basic features of schools may lock them into patterns that make it difficult to achieve either excellence or equality, says Ms. Oakes. The practice of tracking, for example, contributes to mediocre schooling for most secondary students. THE IDEA OF educational equality has fallen from favor. In the 1980s, policy makers, school practitioners, and the public have turned their attention instead to what many consider a competing goal: excellence. Attempts to "equalize" schooling in the Sixties and Seventies have been judged extravagant and naive. Worse, critics imply that those well-meant efforts to correct inequality may have compromised the central mission of the schools: teaching academics well. And current critics warn that, given the precarious position of the United States in the global competition for economic, technological, and military superiority, we can no longer sacrifice the quality of our schools to social goals. This view promotes the judicious speeding of limited educational resources in ways that will produce the greatest return on "human capital." Phrased in these economic terms, special provisions for underachieving poor and minority students become a bad investment. In short, equality is out; academic excellence is in. On the other hand, many people still argue vociferously that the distinction between promoting excellence and providing equality is false, that one cannot be achieved without the other. Unfortunately, whether "tight-fisted" conservatives or "fuzzy-headed" liberals are in the ascendancy, the heat of the rhetoric surrounding the argument largely obscures a more serious problem: the possibility that the unquestioned assumptions that drive school practice and the basic features of schools may themselves lock schools into patterns that make it difficult to achieve either excellence or equality. The practice of tracking in secondary schools illustrates this possibility and provides evidence of how schools, even as they voice commitment to equality and excellence, organize and deliver curriculum in ways that Restructuring Schools for Equity What We Have Learned in Two Decades http://equity.enc.org/equity/eqtyres/erg/111442/1442.htm (1 of 13) [25-02-2000 09:24:16]
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advance neither. Nearly all schools track students. Because tracking enables schools to provide educational treatments matched to particular groups of students, it is believed to promote higher achievement for all students under conditions of equal educational opportunity. However, rather than promoting higher achievement, tracking contributes to mediocre schooling for most secondary students. And because it places the greatest obstacles to achievement in the path of those children least advantaged in American society--poor and minority children--tracking forces schools to play an active role in perpetuating social and economic inequalities as well.
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