There is a movement nationwide to de-track students. For those who are unaware, traditional education involved “tracking”; grouping students by ability level and placing them in a ‘track’ to help their progress. The idea behind tracking was to ensure that students with lower ability level would work at the appropriate level for their skills, allowing students of higher ability level to surge ahead at a faster pace, a pace more commensurate with their ability. Hence, there were levels such as (depending on school):
Prep Level: For students of lower ability level, students who are new immigrants and might not have the language requirements, or students who require special education services which hamper their performance.
Regular Level: For students of ‘regular ability’ – your average high school or grade school student. This is the category most students fit into and where most students are comfortable. The demands or requirements are not overwhelming but rigorous enough (in theory) to provide the education needed to be considered “college prep”.
Honors Level: This level is for the student who finds the previous level too easy and needs a challenge. Reading expectations are higher as are the writing components, homework, and all other aspects of education; hence the term honors.
Advanced Placement Level: This is for the truly high achievers – those who are simply academics and want/need a higher level of learning, a faster pace for honors simply is not enough. The requirements are significant in terms of reading, writing, analysis, homework, and the work should be almost relentless. It is not for the feint of heart.
As you can see, not everything is equal, and not everything is supposed to be equal. As with all things, different people have differing ability levels. The levels which should have the smallest student participation are, of course, the AP and Prep levels…with AP being the most select. This system has been essentially taken apart by modern education philosophy and the notion of equity in the classroom.
Over the years, this tracking system worked relatively well, producing students who were proficient in their skills, and resulting in the United States being competitive on the world stage. Yes, it was based on the ‘factory’ model, but what it did afford was students the opportunity to learn at their pace – a pace commensurate with their ability level.
Students who came to the US without the requisite skills, be they language or otherwise, could develop them at a slower pace and when those skills caught up, move up a level, embracing higher expectations when they were better prepared. It was not a perfect system, but given the nature of public education and the mass number of people involved, it was the most efficient.
Enter the era of “feels” in American Education
Since the 1960’s, American education has taken a decidedly left turn…this is not a political statement but a statement of truth, as documented by such social observers and educators as the late Dr. Walter Williams along with many others. This “left turn” has done little to advance American education; in fact, the argument can be made that it has actually taken American education backwards, the case of Dunbar High School in Washington D.C. being the most prominent. This shift resulted in students of all ethnicities and races, especially those in lower socio-economic strata or newer immigrants having lower test scores and ensuring they’re ill prepared for the rigors of the collegiate experience which, in itself, has also become something of a shell of what it once was.
In my own teaching career, just ended, I’ve seen this transformation do irreparable harm to not only students but the school system as a whole. Either “prep” level students being forced a level above where they belong and coming to hate school as they can’t do the work, or, “levels” being dumbed down in order to accommodate students who simply don’t have requisite skills to be in that level.
What’s worse are the attempts to compensate for the resultant failures and dismal scores: Teachers being forced to lower expectations, simplifying the once rigorous curriculum, or simply passing students through in order to placate parents and sooth administrative angst concerning poor scores. In the end, many students earn a diploma worth little.
What’s the Cause?
They are numerous: over-feeling social justice driven teachers, administrators more concerned with optics (too many [insert anything here] in the prep level) and published failure levels. Then there are parents who are concerned with the stigma of having a “regular” student when all of the country club members have AP students, while still other parents are unwilling to admit their student needs the extra help regular or prep level can provide, forcing a “level change”. Finally, schools vying for headlines and ratings in U.S. News and World Report or their state testing averages in order to raise their profile – good neighborhoods have great schools and with all of that, higher property values.
The result is catastrophic. Students are not learning as they should, teachers have become lazy and/or beaten down as they don’t get the support they need, and students, placed above their ability level simply give up on school as it’s too hard, too rigorous and too challenging – they never experience a modicum of success so after a time, they simply quit.
Add to all of that lax attendance policies, lax school discipline policies and lack of institutional control for fear of being called a racist, ethnicist or some other name, and you have an educational system that is not only failing, but dying on the vine – and students along with it.
One of the major problems is the issue of equity, which in this case refers to equity of outcome rather than equity of opportunity. Schools have become overrun with this failing ideology, going so far as to hire Diversity and Equity Coordinators, a position few know or understand. To many in the field, it’s a politically correct position, designed to satiate the desires of those in a school who are the most “woke” but has little application to the educational experience for students. Indeed, this position serves, it seems, to indoctrinate the teachers in a biased way of thinking rather than serve to advance the achievement of students.
Let’s not forget the position comes with a rather generous salary and benefits as well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the notion that some students benefit from de-tracking initiatives, students with a work ethic and a desire to improve, but those instances, if schools are being honest…truly honest, are more anecdotal than the rule.
Public education needs and overhaul, something that won’t happen as it is firmly in the grip of those who are convinced social justice initiatives are more important than educating students. Learning is not easy, and in some cases, not fun…but it is necessary. If we’re going to properly address education in this nation, let’s start by increasing our expectations, and holding to those expectations, while placing students where they belong so they can best improve in order to gain the requisite skills to advance.
One doesn’t simply ride a bike, they begin with training wheels. Why are we then forcing students who are unprepared to enter the Tour de France?