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Lessons From A Teacher Inquiry Group About Tracking: Perceived Student Choice In Course-Taking And Its Implications For Detracking Reform

by Maika Watanabe - 2007

Background/Context: Given resistance to detracking and the need for strong professional development to support teachers that detracking research documents, it is interesting that little research has focused on teachers’ perspectives in the context of professional development. This study addresses this gap in the literature by closely considering the views of teachers participating in a teacher inquiry group for detracking reform.

Purpose of the Study: Six teachers at an urban public high school that historically disavowed tracking met monthly to discuss issues of ability, intelligence, and tracking in response to the challenge set forth by Oakes, Wells, Jones and Datnow (1997) to address deeply rooted notions of ability and intelligence for detracking reform. This article presents case studies of three of the six teacher participants, whose conceptions of tracking provide insight into some of the complex notions of tracking operating at the practitioner level in schools.

Research Design: Data sources for this qualitative case study primarily constituted partially transcribed fieldnotes from eleven teacher inquiry group meetings and two interviews with each of the six teacher participants.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The perspectives of teachers about tracking and detracking in the context of professional development reveal that there is disagreement in the practitioner community on how much tracking exists and what it looks like, even among teachers teaching at the same school. While teachers clearly articulated and exposed the constraints on student choice in course-taking, teachers frequently called on choice as a rationale for why tracking no longer existed. The emerging variation in these teachers’ conceptions of tracking parallels discourse over the shifts in the scope and complexity of tracking in the research community, and has important implications for the pursuit of detracking reform.

Among the specific recommendations the author presents for researchers and practitioners are the following: 1) Teachers and researchers need to unpack their definitions of tracking, 2) Teachers and researchers need to give student choice in course-taking more attention, 3) Teacher inquiry groups need to examine professional community literature, and 4) Teachers need structural support for this form of professional development.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 9, 2007, p. 2136-2170
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14488, Date Accessed: 7/25/2021 11:45:14 AM

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About the Author
  • Maika Watanabe
    San Francisco State University
    E-mail Author
    MAIKA WATANABE is Assistant Professor in the Department of Secondary Education at San Francisco State University. Broadly speaking, her teaching and research interests focus on the sociology of education, urban school reform with a focus on equity, and educational policy. Two forthcoming publications include: “Displaced Teacher and State Priorities in a High-Stakes Accountability Context,” in Educational Policy, and “Tracking in the era of high-stakes state accountability reform: Case studies of classroom instruction in North Carolina,” in Teachers College Record.
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