Book Review

Keeping Track

by Jeannie Oakes, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 2005, 332 pp. with index, $19 softcover

Keeping Track was first published in 1985, and this second edition includes two new chapters that describe additional research and reform activities on the practice of tracking.

The much-acclaimed original book by UCLA Professor Jeannie Oakes points out early and often that the tradition of tracking in school districts is difficult to erase. Some educators attempt detracking by offering program choice for students, but research studies find that the choice results only imitated the traditional tracking system. Low- and middle-track students in high schools attempting tracking reform were primarily African American and Latino. Many of these students resisted joining high-track classes due to what the author calls "hidden institutional barriers."

Oakes describes a need by students with tracked backgrounds to select high school classes that would allow them to be "respected" by fellow students and teachers. These status needs powerfully influenced students and their program choices.

Additionally, Oakes points out that race and social class continue to dominate the issue of tracking. The author reminds us that many of those who live in affluent communities do not want the values and advantages they already have to be sacrificed on the altar while helping others — at least not at the expense of their children. This behavior is a reminder of the "NIMBY" (Not in My Back Yard) refrain.

But the author has faith in students and educators. She describes programs such as High Schools That Work (run by the Southern Regional Education Board), the Coalition of Essential Schools and the College Board's Equity 2000 project as examples of programs that show promise in detracking schools.

Reviewed by William J. Leary, professor of education. Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.