Levels vs. tracks

Adult friends often ask me about “tracking” at Weston. Apparently they’re referring to their own high school experiences, in which a student entered high school in a certain “track,” such as honors or business, and then remained there forever. This is a foreign concept to me (not just at Weston, but everywhere else I’ve taught or studied as well). Why should anyone have to know where they’re going to be in four years? Most teenagers don’t even know where they’re going to be in four weeks, let alone years. But apparently there are many people who think that your path needs to be predetermined and then followed inexorably.

I understand, in fact, that such a model is prevalent in much of the rest of the world. But I know nothing about that, so I will remain silent on that score. “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen,” as Wittgenstein said. (You can look it up.)

In the United States we pride ourselves on values like equal opportunity and keeping doors open (not that those values are always valued). Note that I’m definitely not arguing against planning. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” We want an eighth-grader to make plans for next year, and the next, and so forth. But we don’t want her to be locked into a track. If she takes regular-level math as a freshman, can she take honors math as a sophomore? Yes, of course.

I say “of course,” but lots of people don’t believe it. They say that no one actually does that, or that no one succeeds if they try to do it. They say that those who start out in regular (“college-prep”) math as freshmen are still in that level as seniors, and that those who start out in honors math as freshmen are still in that level as seniors.

But they’re wrong. As members of the reality-based community, we’ve actually collected data: it turns out that large numbers of students move levels in one direction or the other from year to year, and most (though far from all) of those who move up succeed in their more demanding course. Not surprisingly, there are more students who move down a level than up; as math gets harder, this is exactly what one would expect. But there is still quite a substantial number who move up at one point or another. Many students in regular math as juniors even take an AP course as seniors.

So…we definitely have levels, not tracks. Try it; you’ll like it.

Categories: Teaching & Learning, Weston