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Access to Knowledge


by John I. Goodland - 1983

This article discusses: (1) whether schools across the country provide students equal access to knowledge; and (2) whether the knowledge provided is equitably humanized in classrooms, permitting access for the the diverse array of students in these schools. Research gathered for "A Study of Schooling" forms the basis of the article. (Source: ERIC)

 

The struggle for equal access to schools is not yet behind us but the problems now are more those of logistics than of ideas. The passage of time does not change the fundamental issues involved in the desegregation of schools. But the circumstances do change with time, frequently complicating the logistics. In Los Angeles, for example, the black girl who sought access to the school past which she was bused each day is now a grandmother. And the all-white school she tried to enter now enrolls only Mexican-American boys and girls. Los Angeles is further away today from desegregated schools than it was on August 1, 1963, the date on which Mary Ellen Crawford filed her case in the Superior Court of Los Angeles.1

 

Nonetheless, the practical and ideological issues pertaining to access to schools will not dominate the equal rights battleground in the years ahead. The controversy will swirl around matters of access to knowledge. Some of these matters embrace children who are white as well as children who are black or Mexican-American; children of the economically advantaged as well as children of the economically disadvantaged. Some of the issues rise out of the happenstance of where one chances to go to school. Some parts of the terrain of equal educational opportunity to be trod today and tomorrow transcend race, color, and ethnicity and, in many of its manifestations, even economic status.

 

Two questions rise before us. First, do different schools across the country provide equally or at least reasonably equally the array of learnings our goals for school-based education appear to imply? Second, does each individual school provide those enrolled with reasonably equal opportunity to acquire these learnings? The first is a question of whether knowledge is distributed equitably in our schools. The second is a question of whether the knowledge distributed is equitably humanized in classrooms so that it can be acquired by the diverse array of students enrolled.

 

Obviously, the issues to be addressed in dealing with these questions are very much more complex than those involved in the question of gaining equal access to schools. Agreeing on the basic principles is more difficult; relevant data are harder to come by; and, once available, the data will be subjected to widely varying interpretations. The agenda and it will occupy our attention throughout the balance of the century is the simultaneous provision of quality programs of elementary and secondary education and equality of access to these programs.

 

All that I can do here is to provide a few of the specifics of this agenda-some problems and some hypotheses regarding their nature and solution. I draw primarily from A Study of Schooling, a comprehensive inquiry into many aspects of a carefully selected sample of schools.2 The problems addressed were so conspicuously characteristic of the schools we studied that one must assume the likelihood of their existence in many schools.

 

WHAT SCHOOLS ARE FOR

 

Before we can discuss sensibly matters of quality and equality in school programs, we must have some agreement on expectations. So long as we remain at a rather general level which I intend to do-there is surprising agreement on what schools are supposed to teach. Over more than three hundred years, four broad categories of educational goals for our schools have emerged: academic, civic and social, vocational, and personal. My colleagues and I, on the basis of a historical analysis, arranged these into twelve subcategories.3 We then compared this list with one derived from an analysis of documents sent to us by the offices of all fifty state superintendents of schools.4

 

The result is a list of ten major educational goals, each defined by a half dozen or so subcategories. They spread across the ability to read, write, and handle basic mathematical operations; the ability to use and evaluate knowledge; the development of positive attitudes toward work; the ability to form productive and satisfying relations with others; the development of an understanding and appreciation of cultures different from one’s own; the development of an understanding of the basic interdependence of the biological and physical characteristics of the environment; the ability to utilize values in determining choices; the development of physical fitness and recreational skills; the development of skill in selecting personal, lifelong learning goals and the means to attain them; and more.

 

Not all states list all goals. But these and others like them appeared and reappeared in the documents we examined. We will disagree on their meaning, but there is at least high agreement on a broad and comprehensive mandate to the schools to develop young people in all areas of human development and through all domains of human knowledge and knowing. It is difficult to envision even partially addressing these goals without including in the curriculum all of the major divisions of organized knowledge and engaging the learner in most avenues to acquiring this knowledge. At the broadest level of quality, then, a school program must be comprehensive in what it includes and catholic in the pedagogical approaches to what the curriculum embraces.

 

As a further check on the criterion of comprehensiveness, we asked the 8,600 parents in our sample two questions about the importance of educating in the four goals areas defined as follows: Intellectual development involves instruction in basic skills in mathematics, reading, and written and verbal communication, and in critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

 

Social development involves instruction that helps students learn to get along with other students and adults, prepares students for social and civic effectiveness, and develops students’ awareness and appreciation of their own and other cultures. Vocational development involves instruction that prepares students for employment, develops skills necessary for getting a job, and fosters awareness of career alternatives. Personal development calls for instruction that builds self-confidence, creativity, ability to think independently, and self-discipline.

 

These statements reflect both historical and contemporary analyses of what appear to be the educational expectations for schools. They imply a great deal more than what one conjures up mentally when the words “back-to-basics” are used. We asked the parents in our sample to rate each goal area on a scale ranging from very unimportant to very important. We also asked them to make a single, most-preferred, choice among the four.

 

These parents gave “very important” ratings to all four goals, with only the vocational category dropping toward the “somewhat important” rating for parents of elementary school children. Approximately 90 percent of the parents sampled at all three levels rated intellectual goals very important. Personal goals approached this percentage among elementary school parents and dropped only to 80 percent at junior and senior high school levels. Vocational education was rated only slightly lower by high school parents and somewhat lower but still high by junior high parents. Social education was rated very important by 73 percent of the elementary school parents and dropped only to 66 percent and 64 percent at junior and senior high levels, respectively.

 

Regarding the second question, roughly half of the parents, when forced to make a “most preferred choice,” chose the intellectual category. This should not surprise us. But the fact that the other half distributed this preferential choice across social, vocational, and personal goals suggests to me that a substantial number of these parents and teachers would be very unhappy to see such goals eliminated. Our data lead to much the same conclusion for the 18,000 students and 1,350 teachers included in our sample.

 

When it comes to education, it appears that most parents want their children to have it all. This should not surprise us, either. The irony is that we so often behave as though they wished otherwise, as though all they want is a program of basic writing, reading, and numbering skills. State documents reflect these broad expectations but the states’ mandates to schools are neither clear nor compelling.

 

I conclude from the foregoing that the first criterion for judging the quality of school-based education is reasonable balance in curricular provisions for English/language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, physical education, vocational education, and the arts. It appears reasonable and, indeed, necessary that each state provide broad guidelines for the development of such curricula and require some evidence that each local school, to the best of its ability, approximates the criterion.

 

THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE

 

How well do schools currently meet this criterion? If the schools we studied are reasonably representative of still other schools, the answer appears to be “not very well.” Of course, we found wide variations within our sample. Our data raise serious questions about the adequacy of school curricula and the marked school-to-school variations raise further questions about equality of access to comprehensive programs of study.

 

ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS

 

Relevant data at the elementary level were derived from estimates of the number of hours each week that students were in an instructional setting and how this time was distributed among the subject fields. These data tell us nothing about the quality of time use. Time could have been spent on instruction, routines, social activity, or controlling behavior. For the present, I address only the questions of the amount of time in an instructional setting and the distribution of that time across subject fields.

 

On the average, this time added up to nearly 22.5 hours per week. The startling finding is the range: from just over 18.5 hours at Newport to 27.5 hours-or approximately 50 percent more-at Dennison.

 

This difference gave Dennison extraordinary curricular luxury not enjoyed at Newport. Both gave substantial attention to language arts and mathematics: 6.67 hours and 4.33 hours to language arts and mathematics, respectively, at Dennison; 8.42 and 4.12 hours to each at Newport. But, because of the vast differences in time available for instruction, these hours represented 45 and 22 percent, respectively, of the total time available at Newport, compared with only 24 and 16 percent at Dennison. Both social studies and science, with 1.81 and 1.12 hours each per week, were badly squeezed at Newport. Dennison, on the other hand, devoted over five hours a week or over an hour a day to each of these two subjects.

 

Table 1 reveals that all of these schools in the study providing less than average time for social studies and science were also below average in total time available for instruction. Conversely, those with average or above

 

 

 

average time spent on these two subjects were at or above average for total time available for instruction, It appears that elementary schools can have their curricular cake and eat it too-provided they are diligent in using for instructional purposes the time school is in session each week.

 

Let me suggest a comprehensive curriculum for the three upper elementary grades based on 23.5 hours a week-just 12 minutes a day more than the average in our sample. The schools in our sample averaged 90 minutes a day in the language arts and 54 minutes a day in mathematics-a total of 53 percent of the time available for instruction. Let us assume the time for each to be sufficient. There still would be left 30 minutes daily for each of social studies, science, and health/physical education, leaving 42 minutes for the arts. I believe it quite reasonable, however, for all elementary schools to achieve an instructional week of 25 hours, a condition that provides opportunity for curricular richness at no extra cost.

 

The state might well set such a figure -or, perhaps, specify 23.5 hours with an accompanying challenge to try for 25. But our data suggest the need, also, to provide at least a few guidelines regarding the distribution of that time. With 45 percent of its instructional week devoted solely to the language arts, Newport clearly is out of curricular balance, particularly when one comes to realize the extent to which social studies and science also emphasize language skills. The additional hours Newport badly needs should be devoted to something other than basic reading and writing skills in order to provide adequate variety in the instructional program. Our data, at all levels, show extraordinary domination of rote kinds of teaching and learning in the academic subjects.

 

Our data suggest, then, enormous and, I believe, inexcusable variations in knowledge distribution in elementary schools. These variations depend in part on the efficiency with which schools use their time: getting children into classrooms on time (a matter depending on such things as bus schedules, parent cooperation in getting their children off to school on time, and children’s diligence in getting there); punctuality in staying within scheduled time for recess and lunch; staying in session until the school day ends; and so on. When we add to the possibilities for squandering time the days before vacation periods that often are used diffidently, we begin to see the dimensions of time wasted in schools.

 

School-to-school variations depend, beyond efficiency in time use, on decisions about how to distribute time among the subject fields. A short week accompanied by excessive time on language arts and mathematics seriously squeezes all else. The result is limited likelihood that children’s learning activities will reflect the range of educational expectations we have for our schools.

 

It appears, then, that there are substantial school-to-school inequities in regard to the distribution or democratization of knowledge. These inequities are not associated with race, color, or economic status. They are a consequence of where one happens to attend school.

 

SECONDARY SCHOOLS

 

No doubt, we would have found considerable school-to-school variation at the secondary level regarding the efficient use of school hours. We chose, instead, to inquire directly into curricular balance and variability. This was determined by adding up the courses in each subject area and converting these into the equivalent of full-time teachers. If there is any one thing that should reflect our expectations and priorities for schools, it is how teaching resources are allocated.

 

When these data are averaged by schools, they appear to reflect reasonably balanced attention to overall goals. At the junior high level, the allocation of teachers to the several fields came out as follows: 22 percent to English, 18 percent to mathematics, 14 percent to social studies, 12 percent to science, 12 percent to vocational education, 11 percent to physical education, 10 percent to the arts, and 1 percent to foreign language. For senior high, the figures were: 23 percent to vocational education, 20 percent to English, 13 percent to mathematics, 13 percent to social studies, 12 percent to science, 9 percent to physical education, 8 percent to the arts, and 5 percent to foreign languages.

 

Table 1. Comparison of Selected Schools for Total Instructional Time Each Week

and Time Spent on Social Studies and Science

 

        

Overall

   Soc. St    

Science

Crestview

18.96

2.12

1.31

Newport

18.59

1.81

1.12

Woodlake

22.53

2.90

2.10

Palisades

22.09

2.85

2.43

Laurel

25.74

3.70

3.00

Manchester

26.02

3.38

3.00

Bradford

20.66

1.89

1.56

Euclid

22.58

2.61

2.31

Dennison

27.49

5.33

5.33

Average*

22.44

2.77

2.28

 

*Averages are for a sample of 13 schools, not just the 9 schools depicted here.

 

The major shift from junior to senior high school level is a drop in both English and mathematics, with this and a slight drop elsewhere being picked up by a marked increase in vocational education. There was relatively little attention to foreign languages at either level. One of the smallest senior highs allocated no teachers to this subject; one allocated one teacher of Spanish for the entire program in foreign languages.

 

The summaries of teacher allocations to subjects at both levels (see Table 2) suggest reasonable curricular balance. Some of us would question, perhaps, the discrepancy between vocational education and foreign languages. But we quickly would be distracted by the extraordinary school-to-school differences in most subjects. For example, why the range of from 15 percent at Euclid Junior High School to more than twice this percentage at Crestview in English and from 13 percent at Woodlake Junior High to 22 percent at Palisades in mathematics? One wonders why Manchester allocated only 4 (7 percent) of 54 subject teachers to science in contrast with Laurel, which assigned 3 of 15 (20 percent), or why only 9 percent of Laurel’s teachers were in social studies while Bradford had 18 percent of its teachers in this field. The range in the arts was from 5 percent at Fairfield Junior High to 21 percent at Atwater. In vocational education, the range was from only 4 percent at Laurel to a whopping 22 percent at Manchester Junior High.

 

But it is vocational education at the senior high level that particularly catches our attention. Over 42 percent of the teachers at Fairfield were teaching vocational education subjects-just a shade less than the total for English, mathematics, science, and social studies. The 41 percent representation of vocational education teachers at Euclid (a small school) is equal to the total of English, mathematics, science, social studies, and foreign language teachers at that school. Newport, by contrast, had 61 percent of its teaching staff in these subjects and only 13 percent in vocational education. One would like to think that these curricular differences resulted from a careful process of rational planning by each school faculty in collaboration

 

Table 2. Percentage of Total Instructional Program

or Teachers in Subject Areas: Rank Order of Subjects

by Level*

 

         Senior High Schools

 

        Junior High Schools

 

Subject %

 

Subject %

 

Voc. ed.

23

English

22

English

20

Math

18

Math

13

Soc.St

14

Soc. St

13

Science

12

Science

12

Voc. ed.

12

P.E.

09

P.E.

11

Arts

08

Arts

10

For. lang.

05

For. lang.

01

 

*Rounding to whole numbers resulted in totals of more or less than 100%.

 

 with community representatives. If such processes were occurring, they escaped our attention. Even if they were a result of rational local planning, can we afford, as a nation, such gross variations? Is this what we have in mind as the desired result of local control? I do not think so. Nor do I think that these gross differences among schools reflect anything that reasonably could be called curriculum planning. They are, I believe, more the result of omission than commission. For more than a decade, we have not paid serious attention to the curricula of our schools. And I cannot remember any time when we looked seriously at the curricula of individual students to see whether these reflected reasonable comprehensiveness and balance. Indeed, we have not had the data to make such judgments. Nor do we have the necessary data today. We have been so preoccupied with setting behaviors in the form of competencies and proficiencies that we have not in a long time given attention to the question of what our children and youth should learn in school. And we have been so busy testing and grading them on these behaviors that we have given scarcely any thought to the curriculum content worth acquiring at any level of understanding.

 

Once again, looking at the secondary schools somewhat differently from the way we examined elementary schools in our sample, one comes up with serious questions about the adequacy of school curricula generally and the inequities that appear to arise out of inexplicable, gross, school-to-school differences. And, once again, there emerge problems of quality and equality regarding access to knowledge that transcend color, race, and economic circumstances. The specification of some broad, general, curriculum minima begs our attention.

 

THE HUMANIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE

 

The school is our prime institution for the humanization of knowledge. That is, it has the responsibility uniquely to select and render knowledge pedagogically so as to make it accessible to the widest possible array of individuals. Eighty years ago, the task was of limited social importance, except at the elementary level. Only 10 percent of those students graduating from elementary schools entered secondary schools and a large percentage of these was bound for college. These were the students who adjusted well to the circumstances of schooling. The household provided both the expectations and the support necessary for success in school. The pedagogical challenge was only moderately difficult.

 

We all know what has happened in the interim. As many as 86 percent of those white boys and girls who once were enrolled in the fifth grade are now graduating from high school. In an extraordinarily short period of time, comparable statistics for black children have moved up to 75 percent. Mexican-American children and youth stand out as the minority group for whom drop-out rates remain unacceptably high. We have not reached universal elementary and secondary schooling in this county, but we have come a long way toward it during the current century.

 

One would like to believe that the pedagogical approaches required for humanizing knowledge so as to make it accessible to increasingly diverse student populations have kept pace with expanding enrollments. There has been progress, particularly in devising adaptations for children who are deaf or blind or otherwise handicapped. But our data suggest that schools, on the whole, do not yet engage in the kind and variety of teaching techniques likely to engage, day after day and year after year, the attention of all those who pass through them. Admittedly, the challenge is enormous. But we have scarcely begun to mount the effort required to close the gap between our rhetoric or idealistic expectations and the reality of commitment and attainment.

 

Quoting Whitehead, “When one considers in its length and breadth the importance of a nation’s young, the broken lives, the defeated hopes, the national failures which result from the frivolous inertia with which it [education] is treated, it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage.”5 One would like to believe, too, that the best practices to be found in our schools would be distributed equally among the students enrolled, whether Mexican-American, black, Indian, white, rich, or poor. Regrettably, our data suggest inequities not only in the distribution of subject-matter content among students but also in the classroom procedures employed to render knowledge accessible to students. A significant proportion of these inequities appears to be prejudicial to the educational welfare of poor children, among whom there is a disproportionate percentage of students from minority families.

 

INSTRUCTION FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF QUALITY

 

My colleagues and I in A Study of Schooling have assembled and organized a data bank that contains the perceptions of principals, teachers, students, and parents regarding most aspects of school and classroom life. Included also are the data from more than one thousand classroom observations-a series of precise recordings over successive five-minute intervals, interspersed with repeated snapshots of classroom activity. The result is a rather comprehensive picture of what goes on in these classrooms.6

 

After having been immersed in all aspects of these data, one builds a cumulative portrait that becomes increasingly irreversible. There are, after a certain point, few variations and no surprises. Teachers teach very much as they were taught, using materials very much like those through which they learned while students in schools. They employ a narrow array of teaching techniques-substantially fewer in the secondary than in the elementary grades. Overwhelmingly, they and not their students take the initiative. Teachers are in charge; they set the dominant tone. Students are passive. They listen and they watch; they do written assignments and they take quizzes-lots of quizzes. There is little praise, little correction with feedback, little laughter, little anger, little overt emotionality of any kind. The tone of most classrooms in our sample is best described as flat.

 

These characteristics are somewhat less descriptive of lower elementary classes and become more commonly descriptive of classes at higher grade levels. Also, they are somewhat less descriptive of the arts, physical education, and vocational education than of the more academic subjects. At all grade levels, we found the arts to be best liked by students; physical and vocational education came next. Social studies was consistently the least liked subject in the elementary schools. No academic subject ranked in the first three for interest or liking at either the junior or the senior high school level. They were consistently outranked by the arts, physical education, and vocational education, all of which are characterized by somewhat greater pedagogical variety, more student involvement in planning and deciding what to do, more role modeling of desired performance by teachers, and less student passivity. Virtually all teaching behaviors we associate with student involvement and learning tended to decline in frequency after the primary years (the first three grades). Simultaneously, students’ self-concepts in the academic area-that is, concepts of themselves as learners-declined steadily from the primary grades upward. A disproportionate part of this decline was contributed by students not doing well in school. But most remained there, at least to the age of sixteen. Retardation in learning accumulated while the variety of techniques for stimulating learning declined. Students tended to be involved daily in nearly five different kinds of activities in the primary grades and an average of only two each period in senior high classes. Unfortunately, the two teaching procedures most often encountered in a given class period tended to be those repeated in the next. There is a kind of upside-down character in all of this. The occurrence of varied, creative pedagogy becomes less frequent as the need for it gets greater.

 

What I have described in general terms is compounded in the junior and senior high school years by the onset of puberty and adolescence. Our data and those of other researchers7 suggest that, during these years, peer-group norms, attitudes, and preoccupations take precedence over academic matters for most students. Overwhelmingly, the most popular students are “good-looking kids” and “athletes,” not “smart kids.” The best things about school, according to many students, are not classes and teachers but friends, games and sports, and student attitudes. The worst problems are students’ behavior and drugs/alcohol. There was relatively little concern for anything curricular or pedagogical among the secondary students in our sample.

 

School is a place to be with friends, to make dates, to engage in games and sports. It is, apparently, only secondarily a place of academic learning, so far as the priorities of many students are concerned. Compared with the powerful peer-group preoccupations of these young people, the curricular and instructional attraction of school and classroom appears puny.

 

One is forced to conclude that we have a long way to go in creating at the secondary level school environments so compelling that they engage the priority attention of students for several hours each day. The teaching procedures of the primary grades may not yet be adequate but there is much less to be overcome in the attitudes of boys and girls in attendance. The disjuncture between teaching and learning at the higher levels becomes increasingly great, except for that percentage of young people who took readily to the routines of schooling from the beginning.

 

I am forced to conclude, also, that the professional education of teachers is simply not sufficient for them to transcend the conventional wisdom and practices of their calling. This should not surprise us. Although over 95 percent of the knowledge we possess in the behavioral sciences has been produced in the past quarter century, the professional preparation of teachers has not been increased for purposes of mastering this knowledge. Indeed, many teachers have little awareness of its existence; only a very few even attempt to keep abreast of it once they begin to teach. Teaching is one of the few professions that does not assume the possession of a floor of basic knowledge prior to entering the profession. Rather, we often assume, quite erroneously, that the necessary knowledge and skills will be acquired on the job.

 

We provide teachers with a reasonably well-developed language of what good teaching is, but we fail to give them the depth and breadth of professional, clinical experience required to translate this language into functioning reality. I conclude that we must add to the necessity for curriculum reform massive upgrading of teacher education, particularly at the preservice level.

 

INSTRUCTION FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF EQUALITY

 

I have put forward the proposition that the quality of instruction provided in classrooms is not, in general, sufficient to assure for today’s diverse student populations adequate mastery of the knowledge, skills, and values implied in our educational expectations for schools. I now develop and add to this the proposition that those teaching procedures most generally regarded as conducive to learning are not equally distributed, especially in secondary schools. Further, I submit that the less desirable practices are disproportionately distributed to the disadvantage of children who are poor. Children from minority families, in turn, are disproportionately represented among the poor.

 

Most of the junior and senior high schools in our sample were tracked in the four basic subjects generally required for college admission-that is, many classes in English, mathematics, social studies, and science were categorized as high, middle, or low. Some classes were not so designated.8 They were comprised of high-, middle-, and low-achieving students. We analyzed both tracked and mixed classes. The findings summarized here are drawn from 156 junior and senior high classes in English and 141 secondary classes in mathematics. In English, 46 of these classes were mixed; in mathematics, 27 were mixed or heterogenous. So far as we have been able to determine, there has been very little inquiry into what goes on in such classes. The studies we were able to find involved very small samples.

 

We probed into subject-matter content, instructional practices, and several aspects of student-teacher relationships in this sample of nearly 300 classes.9 There were clear differences among the track levels in all these areas, with the differences invariably favoring the upper tracks.

 

In both English and mathematics, high-track classes were more likely to be taught high-status knowledge: standard works of literature, expository writing, language analysis, mathematical processes, the ideas of mathematics, and the application of these processes and ideas to other subjects. Teachers of high-track classes reported that they had students do activities requiring higher levels of cognition than did other teachers. More time was spent on instruction in high than in low-track classes. Low-track classes were far more likely to encounter utilitarian content: basic reading skills, simple narrative writing, functional literacy skills, language mechanics, arithmetic computations, simple measurements, and the like topics previously encountered in elementary schools. Teachers in low-track classes sought to have students learn to follow rules and stressed conforming rather than divergent thinking. Less time was spent on instruction; there were fewer homework assignments. In summary, there were substantial inequities in the quality and quantity of content in tracked classes, with students in the low tracks experiencing less of both.

 

Regarding instruction, there were marked differences between teachers of high- and low-track classes. Teachers in high-track classes displayed greater variability in their teaching practices, greater clarity in their presentations and requirements, and more enthusiasm. We tend to associate such procedures with good teaching and improved learning. Clearly, students in the low tracks received substantially less exposure to them.

 

Compared with teachers in low-track classes, those in high-track classes spent less time on student behavior and discipline and were perceived by students to be less punitive. Students in upper-track classes reported less apathy, were less inclined to perceive classmates as unfriendly, and were less likely to feel left out of activities. Students in low-track classes perceived their teachers to be less concerned about them and were less positive about the climate of their classrooms. It appears that the climate of classes at different track levels was not equally conducive to study and learning. Not surprisingly, students in high-track classes reported the highest levels of educational aspiration. Consistent with these educational plans were the more positive academic self-concepts reported by these high-track students.

 

The lower educational aspirations and academic self-concepts of students in the lowest tracks did not, interestingly, reflect their view of their schools. They graded their schools as highly as other students did and expressed no less satisfaction with their classes. Instead, they viewed themselves negatively, as not as popular as others, and at times thought they were no good at all.

 

It is often assumed that classes comprised of students at widely different levels of achievement tend to gravitate to the lowest common denominator. In spite of research to the contrary, there is widespread belief that both the most and least able students suffer in heterogeneous classes. Our data point in the other direction. In regard to almost all the aspects of classroom life on which I have reported, the mixed classes looked very much more like the high- than the low-track classes. That is, teachers’ expectations, the content used, instructional methods, classroom climate, and student attitudes were decidedly better in the mixed classes than in the low-track classes. These findings support the hypothesis that most students who would be placed in the low classes of a tracked school would be better off in mixed classes. There is no convincing evidence to suggest that most students who would be placed in the high-track classes would be any worse off in mixed classes.

 

The feelings of defeat, failure, and little personal worth characterizing many of the students in low-track classes do not suddenly emerge in secondary schools. They begin to take shape early. The fast, middle, and slow groups characterizing organizational practices in the primary grades begin to fashion a self-fulfilling prophecy. With each passing month, it becomes increasingly difficult for children in the slowest group to cross over into the one above. Gradually, expectations, content, and even pedagogical procedures begin to conform to teachers’ perceptions of group ability and attainment rather than expectations for other possibilities. Increasingly, students become aware of these classifications and begin to develop academic self-concepts reflecting their class placement. The canaries know that they sing academic songs better than the less highly regarded robins and crows. By the time students reach the junior high school, they and their teachers know where they fit into the organizational scheme of things. And the organizational scheme of things reinforces these perceptions.

 

Poor children are disproportionately members of the low groups organized for the teaching and learning of reading and mathematics in the primary grades. Poor children, in turn, are disproportionately members of minority families. Data from A Study of Schooling revealed poor children to be disproportionately represented in the tracked classes of secondary schools- relatively small percentages (compared with their total representation in the school as a whole) in the high-track classes and relatively large percentages in the low-track classes. In multiracial schools, minority children were proportionately overrepresented in the low-track classes.

 

To the degree, then, that the practices in the high-track classes were superior to those in the low-track classes-and I believe this clearly to be the case in the schools we studied-I am forced to conclude that the inequities served to disadvantage children from poor and minority households. In other words, in schools employing tracking and practices differentiating high- and low-track classes as reported here, poor and minority students do not, in my judgment, have equal opportunity to gain access to knowledge.

 

I have every reason to believe that what I have reported here for a small sample of schools is common to many schools across the United States. Wiping out these and the other inequities regarding access to knowledge and quality educational programs many of them not associated with race or income-constitutes our agenda for the achievement of equal educational opportunity. Because this agenda is only in part a matter involving color, race, and ethnicity, perhaps we will be successful in bringing to it a broader coalition of Americans than that which participated in the struggle for equal access to schools.

 

Notes

 

1 Crawford v. Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles, 17 Cal. ed 280, 551 P. 2d 28 (1976). The Supreme Court of California agreed to hear the appeal from Judge Gitelson’s decision on July 1, 1975, and rendered an opinion on June 28, 1976.

 

2 For further information regarding A Study of Schooling, see John I. Goodlad et al., A Study of Schooling, Technical Report No. 1 (Los Angeles: Laboratory in School and Community Education, Graduate School of Education, University of California, 1979).

 

3 John I. Goodlad, What Schools Are For (Bloomington, Ind.: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1979), pp. 42-52.

 

4 Patricia A. Bauch, State Goals for Schooling, A Study of Schooling, Technical Report No. 31 (Los Angeles: Laboratory in School and Community Education, Graduate School of Education, University of California [in preparation]).

 

5 Alfred N. Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays (New York: Macmillan, 1929), p. 22.

 

6 Kenneth A. Sirotnik, What You See Is What You Get: A Summary of Observations in Over 1000 Elementary and Secondary Classrooms, A Study of Schooling, Technical Report No. 29 (Los Angeles: Laboratory in School and Community Education, Graduate School of Education, University of California, 1982).

 

7 See, for example, C. Wayne Gordon, The High School as a Social System (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1957); and James S. Coleman, The Adolescent Society (Glencoe, Ill,: The Free Press, 1961).

 

8 These categorizations often were quite subtle and the information about them retained confidentially by those who compiled the teaching schedules. Nonetheless, students usually were aware of tracking practices and of their own track placement.

 

9 Jeannie Oakes, A Question of Access: Tracking and Curriculum Differentiation in a National Sample of English and Mathematics Classes, A Study of Schooling, Technical Report NO. 24 (LOS Angeles: Laboratory in School and Community Education, Graduate School of Education, University of California, 1981).



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 84 Number 4, 1983, p. 787-800
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 775, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 10:17:39 PM

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