One of the dirtiest words in American education today is “tracking.” Reformers and ed-school types alike deride the approach as racist, classist, and worthy of eradication. And if they are talking about the practice of confining some kids—typically poor or minority or both—into dead-end tracks with soulless, ditto-driven instruction, they are absolutely right.
But they are dead wrong when they call for elimination of tracking en toto—of removing all “honors” courses, of putting all agemates in the same class regardless of their level of preparedness. That’s a recipe for failure for kids of all achievement levels—and more proof that today’s policy discussion is often devoid of common sense.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist—or even a cognitive scientist—to know that kids (and adults) learn best when presented with material that is challenging—neither too easy so as to be boring nor too hard as to be overwhelming. Like Goldilocks, we want it just right. Grouping kids so that instruction can be more closely targeted to their current ability levels helps make teaching and learning more efficient.