Do tracked schools have same effect as tracking within a school?

Girlfriends going to schoolTracking within schools has been shown in many studies to have negative effects on students, but what about the effects of tracked schools (academic and vocational schools)?

A new study of Flemish students published in the American Educational Research Journal finds that vocational students who attend schools with multiple tracks have slightly lower study involvement than vocational students who attend vocational schools. There was no difference in study involvement for academic students attending both types of schools.

“The data suggest that in multilateral schools, vocational students compared themselves with academic track students, consistent with the hypothesis of increased status deprivation, resulting in even stronger antischool attitudes,” the authors write.

In Flanders, as in other European countries, a rigid form of tracking is applied, explain the authors. The researchers analyzed data on 5,910 secondary school students in Flanders who were in the equivalent of U.S. grades 9 and 11. The students attended 66 secondary schools in Flanders. Study involvement was measured with a 6-item scale assessing general feelings of study engagement, such as “I don’t like to study,” “studying is a waste of time,” etc.

“Since the late 1960s, research has demonstrated repeatedly that students in lower tracks develop an antischool culture to overcome the status deprivation resulting from being in a lower track,” the authors write.

They do not want to imply by the study that within-school tracking should be abandoned and replaced by between-school tracking. Flemish research has shown that tracking not only causes academic divergence between groups of students, but it also leads to the development of distinct cultural and political attitudes and values.

“Unless it is desirable for society to develop into a dual society on the basis of educational attainment, between-school tracking should not be encouraged,” the authors write.

“Study Involvement of Academic and Vocational Students: Does Between-School Tracking Sharpen the Difference?” by Mieke Van Houtte and Peter Stevens. American Educational Research Journal, December 2009, Volume 46, Issue 4, pps. 943-974.

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