Cover image for The tracking wars : state reform meets school policy
The tracking wars : state reform meets school policy
Loveless, Tom, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Brookings Institution Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 194 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm

Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
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LB3061.8 .L68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the 1980s, a nationwide reform movement sprang up in opposition to "tracking," the controversial practice of schools grouping students by ability and organizing curriculum by level of difficulty. Officials in two states, Massachusetts and California, adopted policies urging middle schools to reduce or abandon tracking. In this book, Tom Loveless describes how schools reacted to these recommendations and discusses why some schools went along with detracking while others bitterly resisted the reform. Loveless explains that the state policies were adopted without strict mandates, financial incentives, legal threats, or new bureaucratic structures. They were also adopted without convincing evidence that detracking brings lasting benefits to students. But advocates framed tracking reform as a policy supporting greater educational equity. In response, urban schools, low-achieving schools, and schools serving disadvantaged children have reacted sympathetically to the reform. Suburban schools, high-achieving schools, and schools serving wealthier families have been less willing to detrack. Drawing on extensive survey and case study data, Loveless concludes that this reform's fate is in the hands of local decisionmakers. Schools formulate tracking policy based on their own institutional, organizational, political, and technical considerations. All school reform entails risks. One troubling implication of this study is that the risks of detracking are being assumed by schools with some of society's most vulnerable youngsters.

Author Notes

Tom Loveless is director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of the annual Brown Center Reports on American Education .

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Loveless (public policy, Harvard) avers that tracking today no longer uses IQ tests to group students into curricula that predetermine their fates. Instead, it groups students by ability and organizes curriculum by level of difficulty--what used to be called homogeneous (and its opposite, heterogeneous) grouping--and is done within subjects and schools, not across an entire curriculum or institution. Resistance to the old idea of tracking is an equity issue and still very much a part of school reform. Yet tracking itself has wide popular support. "The empirical support for either tracking or detracking is weak," but "the symbolic politics is strong." Loveless describes the political movement against tracking and investigates the results of detracking, particularly in California and Massachusetts and in case studies of two schools. He concludes that detracking may, in the end, hurt the very students it intends to help. Detracking is a gamble; its risks need to be studied and its political costs assessed. Loveless predicts that more "mixed systems" of tracking policies within the same school can be expected. Upper-division undergraduates and above. R. R. Sherman University of Florida