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Title: Curriculum tracking and the achievement ideology at an American urban public school
Author: Lam, Eva
ISNI:       0000 0004 4357 6675
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis presents a case study of how curriculum differentiation operates at Lincoln High School, an urban public school in the Midwestern United States with a highly regarded International Baccalaureate (IB) program. I use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the systems of beliefs and practices that structure Lincoln's tracking system. Like many American high schools, Lincoln has rejected the traditional practice of assigning all students to overarching curriculum 'tracks' on the basis of their measured aptitude, instead allowing students to choose between courses covering different content at different levels of difficulty in most academic subjects. The school thus offers an excellent opportunity to examine within-school stratification in light of the declining popularity of traditional tracking and the increasing degree to which students control their own coursetaking. Within-school stratification is particularly worthy of continued attention because it qualifies the mythology of the American dream, which holds that schools give students from all backgrounds an opportunity to achieve upward social mobility. I use interviews, observations, and document analysis to explore how curriculum differentiation structures academic and social hierarchies at Lincoln, what teachers and students believe about how to achieve school success and upward mobility, and how Lincoln reconciles its egalitarian ideals with the continued existence of de facto tracking. I argue that Lincoln's approach to curriculum differentiation strikes a tenuous balance between academic excellence and equity for all students. Although student choice dominates the course scheduling process, Lincoln's curriculum still bears many of the hallmarks of tracking: the IB structures a clear academic and social hierarchy of courses, and students tend to follow predictable patterns of coursetaking within each subject, with few opportunities for upward mobility. Nonetheless, teachers and students almost unanimously subscribe to the local achievement ideology, which holds that any student, regardless of prior academic achievement, can and should participate in the IB as long as he or she is willing to work hard. This radical promise of equal opportunity allows participants to characterize Lincoln as a force for equality and social justice. However, the school's continued reliance on sorting its students, even in the face of evidence that tracking reproduces racial and class inequalities, suggests that the achievement ideology serves primarily to legitimate stratification, not to undo it. These findings have important ramifications for research in tracking, detracking, and stratification, and for practice in all schools seeking to negotiate the tension between excellence and equity.
Supervisor: Phillips, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Education ; curriculum tracking ; meritocracy ; achievement ideology ; International Baccalaureate