We know Carol Burris for her insightful critiques of the contemporary school reform movement, but at first glance her On the Same Track
seems to be a history of the bad old days. She presents an authoritative account of the severe damage done by “tracking” students, or assigning them to classes based on their so-called abilities.
But, isn’t the fight to “de-track” classes and to offer the same opportunity for challenging instruction a distant memory from an ugly era?
Burris begins with a photo of three English students. The color of their ties denotes their place in the school hierarchy. The one with the purple tie is “gifted and talented.” But, it is not a picture of Victorian times. It was taken in 2012.
The beauty of On the Same Track is two-fold. Her history of the perpetuation of segregation through tracking of students in the second half of the 20th century, and of promising efforts to fight it, presents an overwhelming case against grouping students according to their achievement levels. It includes the research that market-driven, test-driven reformers should have considered before imposing their theories of school improvement on 21st century schools.
Even better, Burris lets the evidence lead the reader to a startling realization. Reformers, who sought to help poor children of color, have recreated segregation patterns that rival those that grew out of the overt racism of previous generations. We now avoid the word tracking, and we don’t like to think of America as returning to the class-bound structure of England, but much of that evil is being revived in the name of school improvement.