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Changing Students’ Lives Through the Detracking of Urban Mathematics Classrooms

When schools and other education institutions move to de-track mathematics classrooms, opportunities for student learning increase. Evidence for this fact comes from a number of different research studies that show that highachieving students achieve at the same levels in tracked and untracked groups but that middle- and low-achieving students score at significantly higher levels when they are not working in tracks (Boaler, 2002, 2008a; Burris, Heubert, & Levin, 2006; Nunes, Bryant, Sylva, & Barros, 2009). But when schools de-track, mathematics classrooms changes are not only evident in test scores. Teaching environments that encourage high achievement from all students provide a range of possibilities for student learning that go well beyond content knowledge. Heterogeneous classrooms that are based upon co-operation among students change student perceptions of who they are and who they can be (Boaler, 2005), they change perceptions of the nature of mathematics, they teach students about the different qualities and contributions of students who are different from themselves (Boaler, 2008a, b) and they challenge the racial segregation that continues in schools. Despite the role that de-tracking plays in promoting equitable and high achievement, schools across the United States continue to divide students by perceptions of ―ability‖ and communicate to students the idea that only some people— particularly white, middle class people—can be good at mathematics.

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