Lucas, Samuel R.
Tracking Inequality: Stratification and Mobility in American High Schools
University of California-Berkeley
Explores the meaning and consequences of tracking and whether or not the high school reforms that allow students to choose the academic level of their own classes provide students with mobility and opportunities that tracking did not.
Journal Name or Institutional Affiliation:
Teachers College Press
- The college/non-college distinction still serves as an adequate description of how tenth graders are arranged in school
- Enrollment disadvantages found for Blacks and Latinos, although the Black disadvantage disappeared in the 12th grade
- Once aspirations, achievement and requirements were controlled for, an enrollment advantage appeared for blacks, while the enrollment disadvantage disappeared for Latinos, vis a vis Whites
- Despite changes in school practice, a mismatch between achievement and reward still exists in secondary schools
- The majority of students take courses at discrepant levels, making it more difficult for tracking to work to socialize students for different futures
- Information is still disproportionately available to children of middle-class parents
- Data does not support the contention of greater upward than downward mobility; downward mobility predominates
- Track structures appear more rigid in schools with greater socioeconomic diversity. Those who occupy the top of the curricular hierarchy early on are far more likely to remain there than others are to either join or supplant them
- For math achievement, English achievement and college entry, the addition of track location to the model improves the explanation. Therefore, students' location in the new complex school structure is still associated with important cognitive and stratification outcomes
- The achievement differences that are themselves the result of differential placement may serve to maintain the system of in-school stratification
- The author labels the process of many urban schools dismantling their tracking systems between 1965 and 1975 as the "unremarked revolution" since its implications regarding student achievement and experience has been incompletely recognized
- The "unremarked revolution" led to the use of in-school stratification and the author finds that schools still differentially socialize students
- The reform succeeded in dismantling tracking programs but in doing so it forced the removal of the signposts that lower-class students sorely needed in order to realize the implication of present choices on their future options
- More explicit information needs to be given to students and parents regarding the opportunities attached to different choices
- Recent research has suggested that the Matthews Effect (the idea that advantages accrue to those who already have them) is not evident in secondary schools and that instead, the lower a student is in the tracking hierarchy, the more likely the student is to move up
- The author finds this to be untrue and that the Matthew Effect is in evidence in secondary schools. He finds that the higher one's curricular origins, the greater the chance one's destination will be high. His study finds more downward than upward mobility for students whose origins are middle, and less upward mobility than the sum of immobility and downward mobility for low-origin students. However, students starting from higher curricular places are more likely to keep those places than move downward
African American, Detracking, English, Latinos, Math, Social Mobility, Tracking
Secondary Survey Data
Method of Analysis:
Unit of Analysis:
Classroom, School, Student
- Analyses based on High School and Beyond sophomore data (HS&B) collected in 1980 and follow-ups in 1982, 1984, 1986, and 1992.
- Study focuses on math and English, students' simultaneous placement in both courses.
- Four cross-tabulation tables, one for each academic year, that cross-classify students' math course by students' English course, with six categories for each course. Findings displayed in a 6x6 cross-classification table.
- DV: Consequences of tracking reforms on math and English placement
- IV: Achievement, social class background, race, ethnicity, sex, aspirations, the form of students' course taking