Because tracking has been baked into the system of schooling, it is not something that is easily reversed. At my current school, we were able to do away with the system of tracking and rebuild through the use of instruction that meets and highlights the brilliance of all learners. I teach in a school that is far more flexible than most. For those of you who believe that tracking continually shortchanges and unfairly impacts certain populations especially students of color and low SES but don’t know how to begin to change the system, here are a few places to start:
In my work, it became obvious that one of the biggest barriers to access is parents who through no fault of their own do not know how to navigate the system. We need to build communities in which parents are willing to have conversations about the education of their child. As teachers we do not always have control over the system, but we can respond to the needs of parents by educating them on how the system works. In my school, specific parent request to the principal and/or CEO hold a lot of weight. Parents who are unaware of this point of access are at a severe disadvantage. By listening to the voices of parents, we can begin to teach them how to use the system to work in their favor and address their concerns.
Teach Students to Be Advocates
One of the surest ways that we can ensure their success in the future is to teach them how to be their own advocates. As teachers, we must not only be attuned to the loudest voices in our classroom but to those who are not so loud. Too often, teachers say that students should be their own advocates but make no effort to teach them how to do this. By being aware and responsive to the needs of our students, we can teach them how to use the system to work in their favor.
At my current school, I was able to have conversations with students who wanted to advance their education. In these conversations, I directed students to speak with their parents about their desires and to have them call me. We must have the conversations with the students first in order to teach them that self-advocacy is self-power. From there I worked with the parents, which often times led me to having them call the administration with a specific request to be placed into advanced math— a request that I would honor when asked my thoughts by the administration. In this manner, we were able to work together in order to create a more diverse advanced math classroom and begin to dismantle the system.
Use Data to Highlight Disparity
It is unfortunate that we had to play a game in order to get students access to the classes they needed, but we must do what is necessary and right. It wasn’t long before it became clear to administration and others what I was doing— quietly disrupting. As my loop came to an end, we needed to make a change to prevent this same scenario from being played out in the future— we needed to do away with tracking. In conversations with administration and others, I pointed out the disparity that the system of tracking had created in our school. Our school had sought to reduce the achievement gap only to widen it. As a classroom teacher, this phenomenon was obvious but data doesn’t lie. As teachers we can use the words of our district leaders to make the changes necessary to create more equitable spaces for all of our students. In schools across the country, one of the missions that consistently shows up is to create equitable learning communities. Using data, we can point to the systemic issues that prevent the school from living up to this mission.
Tracking is one of the many systems that continues to perpetuate inequities in this country. Each of us has the choice in whether to be complicit with the system or begin to disrupt in our own way. The choice is yours. I hope you choose the latter.