We are attracted to untracking because of its potential. Untracking attacks the problem of students with varying educational experiences in a fundamentally different way than prevailing educational policy. Untracking attempts to replace the adulterated, watered-down curricular approaches associated with tracking with a policy that provides all students with a similar curriculum, while varying the amount of institutional support that students receive. Having contributed to the literature that has exposed the inequalities generated by such school sorting practices as tracking, ability grouping, and testing, we now feel it is time to work collaboratively with people who are attempting to achieve the goal of educational equity.
Because the first author's intellectual roots are grounded in ethnomethodology (Mehan & Wood, 1975), and he had to wrestle with the dilemmas and contradictions posed by the realization that one's participation in research transforms it, we are sympathetic to the issues concerning reflexivity in research raised by critical and feminist scholars (e.g., Behar, 1991; Lather, 1991) who entreat us to make the researcher's positionality itself a visible part of the research process. In so doing, Behar, Lather, and others do us a service by making the connections between the subjective and the objective poles of social research explicit.
But while we can wrestle with reflexivity, we cannot defeat it, because it is an essential feature of everyday life and social research. If we focus too intently on the researcher's contributions, emotional state, and ethical dilemmas, then we stand the chance of losing the very phenomenon we set out to investigate.
The reasons for the inequality in educational outcomes, which break out along ethnic, gender, racial, and class lines in American society, has been a matter of intense debate. Some explanations blame genetically transmitted deficiencies between racial and ethnic groups (Jensen, 1969; Herrnstein, 1974; Herrnstein & Murray, 1994), others attribute differences to the failure of hard work and effort (Parsons, 1959; Davis & Moore, 1945). More recent and controversial theories blame government-sponsored welfare systems for poverty and inequality (Murray, 1984), while others blame the stratifying effects of such school sorting practices as tracking, testing, poor counseling, and ability grouping (Rosenbaum, 1976; Erickson & Schultz, 1982; Oakes, 1985; Oakes et al., 1992).
One of the most persuasive arguments in the debate about inequality is “reproduction theory,” which suggests that inequality is the consequence of capitalist structures and forces that constrain the mobility of lower-class youth (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977a, 1977b). Our research, although conducted on a relatively small number of students and in a relatively small number of schools in one school district, invites us to reconsider some of the basic principles of reproduction theory and its explanation of the causes of inequality.
THE POTENTIAL MALLEABILITY OF CULTURAL AND SOCIAL CAPITAL
Two concepts that are central to reproduction theory are Bourdieu's notions of cultural capital and social capital. Our materials suggest some modifications in both of those ideas are in order.
Having answered the first question of our study (Does untracking work?) in the affirmative, our next step is to determine the reasons for the success of this untracking experiment. How does untracking help students improve their academic performance? Our first point of departure is an investigation into the background characteristics of the students. In this chapter we consider the influence of two sets of background characteristics: one, parents' socioeconomic status (including their income and education), and two, the academic record of students when they enter the untracking program. In both cases, we want to see if the capital that students bring with them into the program has a greater influence than the capital that the students acquire while they are in the program.
PARENTS' SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS AND STUDENTS' COLLEGE ENROLLMENT
Socioeconomic status (SES) has been found to be one of the most influential factors in student success. Minority students do not do as well in school as white students and low-income students do not do as well as more economically advantaged students. Because the connection between SES and school performance is so strong (Coleman et al., 1966; Jencks et al., 1972; Center for Education Statistics, 1986; Haycock & Navarro, 1988), it is important to see if this factor is influential in our data before we move on to consider more subtle social and cultural factors.
Socioeconomic status is normally measured using some combination of parents' occupation, income, and educational level.
The information we presented in chapter 4 suggests that the characteristics associated with students' socioeconomic and academic background are not overwhelmingly responsible for the commendable college enrollment record that the San Diego untracking program enjoys. Because AVID students are enrolling in college more frequently than their early high school records would predict, we are attracted to looking into the inner workings of the program to find the reasons for its success. We take up that task in the next four chapters, starting here with the social organization of the AVID classroom.
IMPLICIT SOCIALIZATION AND THE CULTURE OF THE CLASSROOM
Our discussion of the social processes of untracking rests on two interrelated ideas: One, academic life has implicit or hidden dimensions that students must master in order to be successful in school; and two, a system of institutional supports or “scaffolds” supports AVID students as they traverse this implicit cultural system.
Instead of simplifying instruction or reducing the curriculum for underachieving students, AVID attempts to maintain a rigorous curriculum for all students while adding increased support for lowachieving students. We borrow (and modify) the term “interactional scaffolding” (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976; Bruner, 1986) or “zone of proximal development” (Vygotsky, 1978; LCHC, 1983; Cole & Griffin, 1987) from the cognitive development literature to characterize the practice of combining heterogeneous grouping with a uniform, academically rigorous curriculum enhanced with strong supports.
Students from linguistic and ethnic minority backgrounds are expected to compose an increasing percentage of the U.S. population just when jobs that require higher education are expected to increase in number. Students from linguistic and ethnic minority backgrounds, however, are neither performing in high school well enough nor enrolling in college in sufficient numbers to qualify for the increasing number of jobs that will require baccalaureate degrees.
Historically, educators in the United States have responded to differences among individuals and groups by altering the content of the curriculum to which they are exposed while delivering it in essentially the same way to all. Under this “compensatory education” strategy, low-achieving students (most of whom are from lowincome, ethnic and linguistic minority backgrounds) are placed in special programs or “tracks” where the curriculum is reduced in scope, content, and pace. The hope is that underachieving students will develop basic skills, then be promoted to “regular education” or even college-bound programs.
Despite their commendable goals of attempting to compensate for deficiencies in education through remedial instruction, tracking systems that segregate underachieving students in special programs have been criticized for contributing to the very problems they were to solve. On the one hand, those students who are comfortable in the intersection between the academic curriculum and the unvarying mode by which public schools are organized have gotten a good education.
We continue examining the institutional arrangements that influence untracking in this chapter. The loci of the organizational processes we focus upon are outside the classroom. They reside in district offices, in counselors' or principals' offices. Despite the fact that these institutional arrangements operate at some distance from the classroom, they impact the career of untracked students in significant ways. Because untracking represents a significant modification in long-established educational practice, we place this discussion in the context of the history of innovations within large-scale organizations.
ORGANIZATIONAL INNOVATIONS AND LOCAL PRACTICE
The history of innovations in educational and other institutions shows a remarkable and consistent pattern: Organizational innovations undergo changes as they become institutionalized. Attempts to reform or change organizations, especially those introduced from above or from outside them, are modified at the local level. The innovations are absorbed into the culture of the organization and adapted to fit preexisting routines or standard operating procedures. This pattern has been found repeatedly in business, philanthropic, and political organizations.
Michels's (1949) account of Germany's Social Democratic Party was perhaps the first that identified the adaptability of formal organizations to changing circumstances. Following suit, Selznick (1949) described the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as an organization founded during a reform movement whose original goals have been transformed in order for the institution to survive. According to Zald & Denton (1963) a similar process occurred within the YMCA.
I am the youngest of a family of three – my mother and one sister twenty-two years older than I. My sister never lived with us. My mother, being a single parent, and working two jobs just to keep a roof over us, had little or no time to spend with me. I remember feeling an extreme sense of insecurity as I was growing up. Later, my mother remarried a wonderful man who I would grow to love and respect. He filled my life with all the love and warmth of a family.
After eight years of having a secure family, the effects of my parents' separation nearly destroyed my life. The world of love and security which they had built came tumbling down. I remembered in years back how it had felt to be homeless and I was terrified. I kept asking my mother, “Where are we going to live?”
All those feelings of insecurity and loneliness I had felt while growing up slowly started to come back. I then started eating large amounts of food. Although I did not know it at the time, my struggle with bulimia had begun. At fifteen my life was a disaster, and my grades during that time reflect it. My next regrettable move was dropping out of school. My mother, being too preoccupied with her problems, found it difficult to deal with mine.
Students from linguistic and ethnic minority backgrounds and low-income families do poorly in school by comparison with their majority and well-to-do contemporaries. They drop out at a higher rate. They score lower on tests. Their grades are lower. And most importantly for the topic of this book, they do not attend college as often (Carter & Wilson, 1991).
Students from linguistic and ethnic minority backgrounds are expected to compose an increasing percentage of the United States population through the early years of the 21st century (Pelavin & Kane, 1990; Carter & Wilson, 1991). Jobs that require higher education are expected to increase in number (Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, 1990). The current census data, however, show that students from linguistic and ethnic minority backgrounds are not enrolling in college in sufficient numbers to qualify for the increasing number of jobs that will require baccalaureate degrees.
African American and Latino students have been enrolling in college more often recently than they have in the past, but they are not enrolling at the same rate as white students. In 1970, 26% of African American high school graduates enrolled in college; this rate reached a high of 34% in 1976, declined to 31% in 1989 and rose to 33% in 1990. In 1972 (the first year data were available), 26% of Latino high school graduates enrolled in college, whereas only 29% enrolled in 1990.
To this point, we have reflected on the contributions that academic, social, and institutional processes make to the success of the San Diego untracking experiment. We have suggested that the cultural capital in the form of academic skills that AVID students acquire from their mentors and the social capital they receive in the form of advocacy from their sponsors contribute substantially to AVID's respectable college placement record.
For the most part, these processes operate within the walls of the school: between teachers and students, between AVID coordinators and academic teachers, counselors and administrators. To be sure, some of these processes reach out beyond the school, as when personnel from the AVID central office and coordinators interact with college faculty members and university placement officers; but for the most part, what we have taken up so far operates within the boundaries of the school.
In the next two chapters, we want to turn our attention to cultural processes that have their primary locus outside the classroom. One set of those practices, the topic of this chapter, operates between AVID students and their peer groups. Another set, the topic of the next chapter, operates between AVID students and their parents.
IDEOLOGY AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT IN U.S. SOCIETY
The poor academic performance of poor white, black, and Latino youth has recently been blamed on the actions they take that flow from their critique of the limits of the capitalist system (Willis, 1977; Weis, 1985; MacLeod, 1987; McLaren, 1989; LeCompte & Dworkin, 1991; Solomon, 1992).
Yolanda Lucero is the youngest child of Raquel and Jorge Lucero. Yolanda, her sisters, and her parents live in a small house in a poor mexicano neighborhood a block away from the freeway on the San Diego–National City border. Yolanda, who graduated from Golden Gate High School with a 3.9 GPA, applied to and was accepted at UCSD, UCSC, SDSU, UC Berkeley, and the University of San Diego. She enrolled at UC Berkeley with financial support.
Mrs. Lucero said she was not actively involved in Yolanda's education. Although she volunteered to help in her daughter's elementary school classroom, she said she was never called. She concluded that it was because she didn't speak English; perhaps the teacher decided she wouldn't be able to help the children because she only spoke Spanish. A turning point in Yolanda's academic career occurred in third grade when Mrs. Lucero sent Yolanda to a school with predominantly white students in order for her to participate in the GATE program that was accepting Mexican-origin children for the first time [Fue la primera vez que tuvieron este programa para los Mexicanos. Y por eso, tuvo la oportunidad de participar en el programa]. Yolanda became increasingly aware of the contrasts between her and the other students when they talked about their fathers' work. Their “fathers were bank managers, worked with computers, and my dad [worked] in produce.” Thus, she learned that ethnicity, language, parents' education, and occupation all contributed to her distinctiveness at school.
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