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Popular Educational Classics

A Reader

Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis

The last half century has created deep tensions in how we analyze educational and social change. Educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens have had to cope with competing belief systems in evaluating and acting upon school policies and practices. This illuminating book untangles many of the roots of those persistent debates that have divided the nation for so long. It offers readers a critical opportunity to reflect on our continuing ideological struggles by examining popular books that have made a difference in educational discourse.
The editor has specifically selected key books on social and educational controversies that speak to wide audiences. They frame contextual issues that so-called «school reformers» have often neglected – much to the detriment of any real educational progress. Ultimately, this text is meant to stir our consciences, to disorder our certainties, and to compel us to treat education and culture with both reason and passion. It is highly relevant for courses in social foundations of education, school reform, educational policy studies, philosophy of education, history of education, politics of education, curriculum studies, and teacher education.
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Chapter Sixteen: Jeannie Oakes, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality (1985)

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SIXTEEN

Jeannie Oakes, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality (1985)

Susan Schramm-Pate and Kenneth Vogler

Synopsis: Themes and Arguments in Keeping Track

In her 1985 book Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality, social scientist Jeannie Oakes argues that tracking exaggerates initial differences among students and contributes to mediocre schooling for many who are placed in middle or lower tracks. She makes a strong case that these stigmas, influenced by the sorting and labeling of students, follow us from elementary school to secondary school. Oakes presents the results of her analysis of a comprehensive range of tracking studies. She finds that there is little evidence that homogeneous grouping improves the achievement levels of any group. She argues that students of the working-class poor and people of color are often placed in lower tracks, where they are given a less demanding and less rewarding set of curricular experiences. As a result, they suffer a loss of self-esteem and develop negative self-concepts.

Oakes’s book is characterized by issues of equity and accusations of racism in the face of both a degradation of educational opportunities for students identified as gifted and talented, and a lack of concern for students identified as needing extra assistance. Oakes argues that equity is a noble goal but should not be pursued at the expense of students who lie at either end of the normal curve. For her, this is especially relevant at...

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