Reversing Tracking for Social Justice

      4 Comments on Reversing Tracking for Social Justice

pablo-7Because 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:

Educate Parents

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.

Final Thoughts

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.


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4 thoughts on “Reversing Tracking for Social Justice

  1. redpenconfessions

    Agreed: there isn’t a more urgent need that to work towards greater equity in our educational systems. Unfortunately, teachers are part of perpetuating that system. Conscious or unconsciously, by participating in systems that are constructed to perpetuate inequity, we become complicit in that inequity. It is a hard truth to face because then we feel powerless to change it. But, as you illustrate, we aren’t powerless. It’s just so much harder to acknowledge our power and push for change.

    So, I’m actually not surprised at all that the pushback came from other teachers. The status quo system had the advantages of being familiar. Teachers and students have organized around it for years. What you were proposing was scary because it was unfamiliar and would upend the established system. Not matter how much you try to show people that the status quo is damaging or immoral, people will cling to the inertia and familiarity and beliefs surrounding the current system.

    I would love to read more about how this process played out and what you’ve learned from it!

    1. nvtutolo Post author

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I’m actually in the process of writing a more lengthy story about this process. Hoping to put out something in the near future in the form of text and possibly a podcast.

  2. redpenconfessions

    I want to know so much more about this! You wrote: “In conversations with administration and others, I pointed out the disparity that the system of tracking had created in our school.”

    What happened after this conversation or as a result of it? Did you receive push-back from other teachers and/or principals?

    This post illustrates true leadership–centered on the work and the students, advocating with evidence, taking risks, thinking systems-wide. I can’t wait to hear more about what you are doing in your school, and I hope you keep sharing publicly to push on systems beyond your school.

    1. nvtutolo Post author

      Thank you for your response. I appreciate that other see the need for this work. Surprisingly, the majority of the pushback came from other teachers. It became an ongoing battle where I was pitted against my colleagues. I believe that it is an imperative to break down systems that continue to perpetuate inequity in our schools.


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