Neotracking in North Carolina: How High School Courses of Study Reproduce Race and Class-Based Stratification
by Roslyn Arlin Mickelson & Bobbie J. Everett — 2008
Background/Context: This article describes neotracking, a new form of tracking in North Carolina that is the outgrowth of the state’s reformed curricular standards, the High School Courses of Study Framework (COS). Neotracking combines older versions of rigid, comprehensive tracking with the newer, more flexible within-subject area curricular differentiation to form an overarching, multilevel framework for high school curricula.
The Course of Study Framework requires 8th graders to select one of three Courses of Study prior to entering high school: Career Preparation, College/Tech Preparation, or College/University Preparation. Exceptional children are enrolled in Occupations, a fourth COS. The COS reform was instituted, in part, to facilitate reaching North Carolina’s twin goals of equity and excellence for all students.
Purpose: The purposes of this article are to investigate if neotracking facilitates or hinders reaching these goals; if there is a relationship between district and school demographics, students’ racial backgrounds and their COS assignments; and if between- and within-school variations in COS placements result in greater or less race and social class stratification in opportunities to learn.
Research Design: Using aggregate data on COS enrollments among Class of 2005 high school seniors in the entire state of North Carolina and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), we evaluate COS enrollment patterns by student, school, and school system characteristics.
Findings: Results indicate that although a majority of students across North Carolina enroll in the College/University Prep COS, the variations in enrollment reflect the race, ethnic, and social class stratification in North Carolina. Students in affluent NC school districts are significantly more likely to enroll in the top COS than those living in less affluent school districts. COS enrollments vary by students’ race and ethnicity, too. Likewise, COS enrollments are related to the racial composition of a high school’s student body.
Conclusions: Neotracking tends to reproduce race and social class stratification of opportunities to learn, resulting in the worst of both worlds: the majority of North Carolina’s high school graduates are prepared neither for higher education nor for the workplace—one of the very problems that the accountability movement and the NC Course of Study program was intended to address.
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