Schooling Students Placed at Risk: Research, Policy, and Practice in the Education of Poor and Minority Adolescents

By Mavis G. Sanders | Go to book overview

6
Unpacking the Black Box of Tracking Decisions: Critical Tales of Families Navigating the Course Placement Process

SUSAN S. YONEZAWA Johns Hopkins University

The present study reports findings from a multiple case study of 19 racially and
socioeconomically mixed ninth-grade students' and their families' course-taking
experiences as the students transitioned from the eighth to the ninth grade. It
documents four distinct processes -- asserting entitlement, penetrating privilege,
passing through, and opting down -- that the families engaged in when navigating
course placements. The processes, illustrated in the critical tales of 4 families, reveal
the ways in which families' biographies and their relationships with significant
others in the school and community affected their approach to course placement and
their ability to secure seats in higher track classes.

Over the past decade, a plethora of research has indicted tracking, that is, grouping students by perceived ability into courses marked by differentiated curriculum, as educationally harmful to students placed in the lowest tracks (see Oakes, Gamaron, & Page, 1991). Enrollment in a college-preparatory track makes it more likely that a student will attend college. It also increases the likelihood that the student will complete high school ( Gamaron & Mare, 1989). Vocational tracks, in contrast, fail to increase students' chances for "securing employment related to training, avoiding unemployment, or securing higher wages than those of non-vocational high school graduates" ( Oakes, et al., 1991, p. 593). Thus, tracking, the type of academic program a student selects or is selected for, has grave consequences for both

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