Tales From An Untracked Class

By Linda Christensen

It’s teacher “work” day — two days before students arrive — and I’m trying to reconstruct my classroom between faculty, department, and union meetings. Mallory leans over my desk, her dancer’s body rounding in the third month of pregnancy. “I need to transfer to your 5th period class because the parenting class is only offered 6th. I hope this class is all mixed up like last year’s.”

Mallory reads over my temporary student enrollment list, telling me about the students I don’t already know. “Oh, he’s bad, Ms. Christensen. He talked all the time in math last year. I don’t think he’s passed a class yet. Oh, the Turner brothers are in here.

They are the smartest kids in our class. I swear they’ve never gotten less than an A the whole time they’ve been in school.”

The class is starting to sound good. Hopefully, Barbara Ward and Annie Huginnie, the two senior counselors have given me “mixed up” classes of students again: failures and successes, neighborhood and magnet students, performers and non-performers, “advanced,” and “remedial.”

Unhooking One Class

I untracked my English classes several years ago. I knew tracking was unjust, and I didn’t want to perpetuate the myths about academic ability that tracking imparts. I also wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to teach a wide range of students in one class, to present a model for our school.

After ten years of teaching remedial English, I also knew I couldn’t stand teaching one more low tracked class. Even if my seniority allowed me the privilege of teaching advanced classes, morally, I couldn’t teach them any longer.

Tracking helps create, then legitimates, a social hierarchy within a school based on perceived differences in student ability.

Students in higher tracks have access to college preparatory classes: Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, Chemistry, Physics. But even in the traditional subjects — English and Social Studies — students participate in different educational experiences. Even the titles of classes are telling:

Global Issues for college bound students, Geography Skills for the vocationally tracked. Students in advanced classes read whole books, write papers, complete library research which prepares them for college, while students in lower track classes typically read light bites of literature and history — short stories or adolescent novels. Their writing, if they write, tends to remain in the narrative, personal story telling mode rather than moving to the analytical.

Beyond the lack of preparation for academic tasks, the larger problem I witness as a teacher is the embedded beliefs students leave these classrooms with.

Students in advanced classes come to believe they earned a privilege that is often given them based on race, class, or gender, while students in remedial classes learn they

are incapable of completing more difficult work.

But I wonder what other messages my students learn when they see a majority of white students or magnet students in advanced classes. Do they believe that white students are smarter than students of color? That students who don’t live in our neighborhood know more than neighborhood students? When we allow tracking, especially tracking which privileges one race, one class or one gender over another, we may unwittingly allow students to walk away with these assumptions.

When I decided to untrack, I asked the counselors to place a variety of students in my classes. And they do. I typically teach four classes a day: Literature in American History, a two period block class that I co-teach with Bill Bigelow, and two sections of Contemporary Literature and Society, a senior level course. (This is not a full load; I work as director of the Portland Writing Project for part of my day.) Each of these classes fulfills the requirement for junior and senior level English classes. The English department and the administration approved both courses as variations in the regular curriculum. Depending on the time my classes are offered, they are more or less diverse.

Myths and Misunderstandings

After teaching untracked classes for several years, I’ve come to believe that the notion of great differences in student ability is false. Many of the students who come from “remedial” classes are quite bright.

But the abilities they bring to class often go unrecognized because they aren’t the skills traditional education has prized. Anyone who has taught low skilled classes know this. During my first years of teaching, I couldn’t keep up with the verbal sparring in my Title I (now Chapter I) reading classes. Students beat me quite handily in verbal battles about going to the bathroom, eating food, and chewing gum in class.

Because of the difference in students’ education histories, they come with different sets of skills, but not necessarily different sets of intellectual capabilities. The students who typically perform well in class have better reading, writing, geographic, and math skills. They have better work habits. They know how to study. They are often voracious readers. They have written more essays and know how to put together a well organized paper. They are confident of their ability as students.

Whereas, many “remedial” students still have problems with the basics in punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, and grammar. They don’t know where to begin or end a sentence much less a paragraph or an essay. Many have never read a complete book by their junior or senior year in high school. Many never do homework. They are often intimidated when it comes to traditional class work, or they have made a choice to slide by.

But often the most creative students in my mixed ability classes are the students who have not succeeded in school. Previously in my low skilled English classes, this creative energy funnelled into “stinging” each other, insults. Now, it finds outlets in poetry, dialogues, oral work. (This is not to say my classroom is perfect; I battle side talk daily.) In my experience, many previously low tracked students have a great ear for dialogue because their listening and speaking skills are more finely honed.

These students tend to be playful, talkative, adept at role plays, debates, and class discussions. They are risk takers.

Steven, for example, literally jumps into the middle of a debate. Once, in a unit on the politics of gender, he strode to the center of our circle and acted out how he believes women have a shopping mall approach to men. Steven pretended he was a woman inspecting each man as if he were a piece of merchandise, then tossing him aside when

someone better came along. Although he had difficulty writing an essay on the topic, his spontaneous “presentation” during discussion was well argued and gave students a metaphoric framework for many of their debates on the topic.

Each group of students (as well as each individual student) presents their own problems. While most of the “advanced” students complete their class work and homework on time, too often they write “safe” papers. Chris, a potential valedictorian, summed it up when he asked, “What do I have to do to get an A?” Not what tools must I be capable of using, not what knowledge will I need to understand about

literature, writing, society, history, but what must I get done. My goal is to shake them out of their safety, to create a desire to write, instead of a desire to complete the work, to awaken some passion for learning, to stop them from slurping up education without examining it. I want them to walk around with note pads, ready for their next poem, story, or essay, but I also want them to question themselves and the world: in fact, I want them to question the privilege that placed them into advanced or honors classes. I want the same for my low skilled students, but additionally, I am challenged to harness their verbal dexterity onto paper and motivate them to work outside of class. But I also want to provoke them to examine the inequalities that landed many of them in low skilled classes in the first place.

Who Benefits?

Another myth about ending ability grouping is that “low” students automatically benefit while advanced students automatically languish. Some folks think that top students end up playing teacher to their not so bright peers in an untracked class — and unfortunately this is sometimes true. Adam, a senior, writes of his experience in this role:

I was always the one the teacher looked at when someone else needed help. “Oh, Adam can help you.” It’s not the usual form of discrimination, but I realize now how much it bothered me when I was in grade school. “Well, so and so isn’t a good student, he needs extra help, we’ll make him partners with Adam. Adam won’t mind spending his extra time explaining things to so and so.”

This problem tends to erupt when a class is untracked but the curriculum and methodology remain the same. It’s the worst case scenario that proponents of tracking use to scare us into maintaining the status quo.

They assume that top students master the material quickly and must either tap their toes or play teacher while remedial students struggle. This situation places students who arrive feeling one down educationally at a further disadvantage, but it also takes time away from advanced students who should be working at the edge of their ability instead of repeating what they already know.

But if we turn the practice of students as teachers around and look at it differently, if we shift perceptions about who teaches in a classroom, then we acknowledge that all students can be teachers. When there is real diversity in the class, students teach each other by sharing their strengths: Steven’s improvisation on gender issues, Jessica’s dialogue, Tony’s metaphoric analysis of the politics of language, Adam’s ability to punctuate, Tivon’s synthesis of political issues into concrete images, Curtina’s images in her poetry, Joe’s insight into how social politics reverberate in the ’hood.

Students also teach each other by telling the stories of their lives or debating issues from diverse perspectives. Scott thought that racism had disappeared after the ‘60s. When Millshane told about her brother’s death at the hands of a white man who was never punished for the crime, when she described the cross burning in front of her house, when Suntory wrote about the hour it took for 911 to respond after a round of gun shots were fired into his house, Scott’s education about race relations became real.

As Jessica noted in her class evaluation: This is the first English class in three years where I have been around different students. All of us have been tracked into separate little migrating groups forever stuck with each other. I think that having so many different thinking minds made it rich. All the experiences we shared were exciting and new. It made us debate things because most often we didn’t agree with each other. But we listened and we all think a little bit differently now. Don’t you wish the whole world could be like our class?

Of course this notion of students as teachers implies a major shift in the structure, content, and methodology of the class.

Changing the Curriculum

I was moved to untrack my classes because of the injustice I saw in students’ education. But I continue to teach untracked courses because they make better classes — for teachers and students.

Now instead of constructing my curriculum around a novel in my English classes, I teach thematic units that emphasize the social/political underpinnings of my students’ lives: the politics of language, men and women in society and literature, the politics of cartoons and mass media.

The point is not to teach a certain novel or a set of facts about literature, but to engage students in a dialogue, to teach them to find connections between their lives, literature, and society. And most importantly, to teach them to question what is too often accepted. The same is true in my Literature in American History course. We no longer march through the year chronologically. “Essential” questions provide the focus for each unit.

In the politics of language section of my Contemporary Literature and Society class, I ask, “Is language political?” There is no one text that answers the question. A variety of readings — novels, plays, essays, short stories, poems — as well as role plays, discussions, improvisations, writing from our lives, all serve as “texts.” Think of it as a symphony or a choir. Each text, each student’s life, adds an instrument or voice to the discussion. The texts are interwoven, but the recurring refrain is made up of the students’ stories and analysis — their voices, either in discussion or in read-arounds of their own pieces, hold the song together.

For example, instead of teaching students Standard Written Edited English as if it were the only way to speak and write, as if it were the language agreed upon as the best choice, I ask them to question that policy. Because many of the seniors are either preparing for or avoiding the SAT’s, I begin the unit by giving them a sample test, then exploring how they felt about it. Most felt humiliated. We explore why a test for college admissions should make them feel like that. We ask why there should be tests to keep some people in and some people out of college. Statistics from FairTest that break down SAT scores by race, class, and gender provide students another perspective. They try to analyze what these data mean. Are women less intelligent than men? Are rich people smarter than poor people? If not, how can we explain the difference in scores? What other explanations can we find?

“The Cult of Mental Measurement,” a chapter from David Owens’ book None of the Above, gives historical background to their analysis. Then we look at how language affects different groups. We read George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and look at the intersection of class and language. Through “The Achievement of Desire,” a chapter from Richard Rodriguez’s book, Hunger of Memory, students examine how people whose first language is not English change when they assimilate. We also read parts of Talkin’ and Testifyin’ by Geneva Smitherman. For many students, African-American and European-American, this is the first time they’ve studied the historical roots of the African-American language. For some, this is an affirmation of their home language, a winning back of pride in themselves and their families; for others, it is an opportunity to explore misconceptions about language.

The change in content to thematic units with a focus on essential questions shifts the educational domain from memorizing the rules to questioning the rules. This is sometimes uncomfortable. There are no easy-to-answer, machine-scorable tests at the end of the unit. There is no “getting it done.” Sometimes, there isn’t even agreement. The shift in terrain from consumption of knowledge to the questioning and examining of assumptions moves students of diverse abilities away from the lock-step nature of a skills approach while at the same time challenging them with a rigorous, accessible curriculum.

Our explicit focus on the politics of language and education plays an additional key role in untracking my classes. Because tracking has to one degree or another shaped students’academic self-conception, especially low-tracked students, taking a critical look at this process helps them rethink their potential. As my teaching partner, Bill Bigelow, writes in an article on untracking the social studies classroom:

…[t]he unequal system of education, of which tracking is an important part, needs a critical classroom examination so that students can expose and expell the voices of self-blame, and can overcome whatever doubts they have about their capacity for academic achievement.

Changing Strategies

It’s hard to parse out techniques. They don’t easily divide into reading, writing, Social Studies, English. Is writing interior monologues and poetry about a historical novel a reading strategy, a writing strategy, or a way to deepen students’ understanding of history or literature? When students begin writing poetry, drama, essays, fiction, their reading of those genres change. They read with a new kind of awareness — they look at blocking, dialogue, imagery, use of evidence instead of reading for answers.

When students begin making a social analysis of a text, where does English end and Social Studies begin? Just as untracking makes us question the notion of “good” kids and “bad” kids, changing classroom practice blurs borders between content areas and strategies. Nothing is quite so tidy.

Some of the readings discussed above are quite difficult — for all students. And this provides a roadblock or a dilemma for those of us who want to untrack classes. How do we continue to read challenging literature when not all of our students are capable of reading it? Do we “dummy down” the curriculum and deny capable students access to a rigorous curriculum or do we give different assignments to students based on their reading levels? Although I’ve done both in the past, as well as providing students a choice of novels within a theme, I grew uncomfortable with those options.

Improvisations, dialogue journals, poetry, and interior monologues as well as other strategies teach students in any class to question rather than read for answers. But in an untracked class, these methods equalize access to reading as well as push students to discuss content. Not every student in my class completes the readings by the due date, but they can still be involved in the discussion. Often the class talk entices them to read and provides a meaningful context for them to understand the text.


Now I use a variety of strategies to give students access to the readings. For example, with Pygmalion I use improvisations. I divide the students into small groups, give each group a provocative scene and ask them to create an improvisation which will help the class understand what took place in that particular section of the play. As a small group they discuss the scene and make meaning. As I circulate from group to group, I catch snatches of questions: What is going on? Who is Freddie? And then moving to higher level discussions: Why does Eliza throw the slipper at Higgins? Why doesn’t she fight back when he calls her a “squashed cabbage leaf?” Doesn’t this remind you of…?

The groups provide access to the entire class as they reread, reinterpret, and act out the text. Goldie and Antonia rewrote the like Pudge? When Danny makes a joke, couldn’t she say, “Hey, that’s not funny. Think about how people talk about Indians?”

Janice: Yeah. Because people do that in real life too — stop someone when they’re telling a racist joke.

The class becomes more democratic. This questioning method puts students in charge of the discussion rather than the teacher. It validates their questions. Sometimes in large group discussions when the teacher talks about symbolism or a well-read student discusses the imagery in a passage, some students are too intimidated to ask the simple questions. Students have an opportunity to try out ideas on this small group before taking the point to a large group.

Again, students learn from each other, by challenging each other’s assumptions and listening to someone else’s opinion. Claire wrote, “I got ideas I wouldn’t have thought of, interpretations I would not have considered. When I really thought about all of it, I acquired some new skills from [my classmates].”

While writing dialogue journals, students stand outside of the text and ask questions or make comments, whereas the writing of interior monologues and poems from the literary or historical character’s point of view encourages students to examine why characters act the way they do. These tactics put students inside the literature and history. They breathe life into content that can seem dry, factual and distant from students’ lives. For example, in the following poem, “To Die Without Weeping: The Atomic Bomb on Japan,” Cresta borrows language from the book Hiroshima and writes about the bombing of Hiroshima:

Near the center
it was as hot as the sun
and people became nothing.
Their heads bowed in expressionless silence,
butterflied patterns of kimonos
scarring shoulders and backs.
Cries for water echo off destroyed lives,
moans of pain haunt the shadows of men,
as if their spirits left
so that we do not forget too quickly
our people buried together.

As black rain falls
plants flourish wildly in the wreckage.
A city of death blanketed in flowers,
morning glories twist around lifeless bodies,
regenerating towards the sky,
ignoring those who have died without weeping.

Her poem puts us inside Japan. We no longer count bodies from a distance. Instead we feel the pain and see the destruction close up. We talk about the personal toll of the bombing. Historic decisions become embedded in real people’s lives — lives that students, at least momentarily, have touched.

Interior monologues also help erase the distance between people separated by time, race, nationality, and gender. In this form, students get inside a character’s head and write thoughts and feelings about a situation from that person’s perspective. Typically, students read pieces of literature or history or view slides, videos, or paintings in class as prompts and then imagine the character’s thoughts. Heather wrote from the point of view of an enslaved woman raped by her “master;” George wrote from the mind of a soldier who watched his friend die. Erika’s interior monologue came from a Japanese-American girl’s point of view as she burned all of her Japanese toys and books before the Japanese internment. By getting in touch with their own pain and loss, students learn to empathize with others. This deepens their reading. Instead of reading words, they read lives.

There is no right answer in these excercises. As I tell students, “The only way you can do this wrong is to not do it.” I begin by sharing examples from previous years so students will understand what I want. The student pieces advance classroom knowledge and dialogue about content, in these cases history, but also about reading and writing. One of the points I try to make is that neither history nor literature is inevitable. People made choices.

Filtering reading through improvisations, dialogue journals, interior monologues, poetry, and class discussions slows the class down. We don’t “cover” as many novels, as much history, as we did before. But students learn more. They discover how to dig beneath the surface, how to make connections between texts and their own lives. Last year, in class evaluations students let me know in no uncertain terms that the units they enjoyed and learned the most from were the units we spent months on; the units they enjoyed the least were the ones where I “bombarded [them] with readings” which I didn’t give them time to digest.

I remind myself that taking time to carefully teach students how to “talk back” to text pays off throughout the year because these practices teach students to read and respond critically. In her class evaluation Lily wrote, “I look at the world as a question now. When I read the newspaper, I don’t know if I can believe what it is saying. I always read more than one history book, and definitely question what CNN is saying. The press has a way of changing stories to make them sound good so that the paper will sell. I think the historians did the same thing.”

These techniques also allow students from different literacy backgrounds a way to join in the conversation. There’s no one way, no right way to talk about literature and history.

Changing Writing Strategies

Few students, regardless of their ability, see themselves as writers. So my first challenge is to change students’ perceptions about writing and their ability. I tell them: Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or spelling on the first drafts, just write, then revise. I try to get them to kick the editor out of their heads.

The threshold for success should be low enough for all students to cross over. The climate should be welcoming enough for everyone to want to try. Whatever we write, wherever we begin should be cause for celebration. I know this sounds like some kind of fairy tale magic — “just believe enough and your dream will come true.” But, corny as it sounds, it’s true. Maybe part of it is that if teachers believe in a student’s capacity to learn, they will. But I think part of it is rewriting the student mind set, replacing the belief, “I don’t know how to write or read or discuss,” with the belief that they can.

The read-around is where the fairy dust that converts nonwriters to writers happens. The circle is necessary so everyone is a part of the class. (This also cuts down on discipline problems because all students are visible and accountable.) As students and I read our pieces, classmates take notes and give positive feedback to the writer. I talk about three kinds of feedback: content, style, and “me too.” They can respond to the content of the piece — what did they like about the arguments, the ideas of the writing. They can respond to the style of the piece. I ask them to be specific. What line, what phrase did they like? Did they like the imagery, the repetition? Instead of working on a deficit model — what’s wrong with this piece, we work on a positive model — what’s right with this piece. What can we learn from it? They can also respond, after they’ve given the writer feedback, with a “me too” story which tells how the writer’s experience stimulated a memory. As Pete noted in his class evaluation:

The way you have us make comments (what did you like about [the piece of writing]) has helped me deal with people. My skin is thick enough to take a lot of abuse just because I’ve always had a fairly high opinion of some of the things I can do. I didn’t realize a lot of other people don’t have that advantage. After a while I found out positive criticism helped me more than negative too.

Students learn from each other. They provide each other with accessible models. I encourage them to listen for what “works” in the writing of their peers, and then steal those techniques and use them in their own pieces. In their portfolio evaluations, they write about what they learn from each other’s writing as a way of discussing the changes in their writing.

Erika wrote in her portfolio:

My classmates played a huge role in improving my writing. Without them I wouldn’t be able to write at all. When listening to people’s pieces I find things to use in my own work. When I hear Jessica or Courtney read a piece I listen to their “attitude” and try to bring it into my own writing. When I hear Amianne and Rose’s description I then try to reach deeper into my own vocabulary. And when I hear Rachel’s and Adam’s true life stories, I search back in time to find something that happened in my life worth writing about.

In an untracked class, the fear is that advanced students will read and students who have been placed in low-tracked classes will be silenced. But that has not proven true. I begin with low threat assignments: write about your name; write about an event in your life; write from the point of view of a character. At the beginning of the year, I ask students to write a compliment to each of their classmates about their piece.

The message is: anyone who reads will receive positive feedback. No one will be thrown to the wolves. We do critique writings later, but always the initial feedback is what works. All students are fearful when they share. They feel exposed and vulnerable. Their hands shake, their voices quaver, clearly, they are nervous. Although Sharon was afraid to read for the first quarter of the year, she eventually read:

“One thing I need to learn is to read my pieces out loud because I might think my piece is scum but it might be just dandy to another. I think it was good that we had readarounds because you got a chance to hear what people thought about our pieces and that leads to rewrites.”

Heather wrote:

When I listen to other people’s writing, I hear things I love or wish I’d written myself. Most of the time that’s where I get my inspiration. Sometimes I catch myself saying, “I wish I could write like so-and-so.” Then I think, “What was it about his/her piece that I liked?” When I figure that out, I’m that much closer to being a better writer. I use their papers as examples. I steal their kernels of ideas and try to incorporate it into my own writing. For example, I love how Ki uses her personal history in her writing, so I try that out for myself. I like Lisa’s use of unusual metaphors, so I try as hard as I can to steer clear of the generic type I’ve been known to use in the past.

As with the reading, not all students in an untracked class arrive on the due date with a paper in hand. To be sure, some students haven’t taken the time to do the work, but others can’t find a way to enter the work; they either don’t know where to start or feel incapable of beginning. Even my pep talks about “bending the assignment to find your passion” or “just write for thirty minutes; I’ll accept whatever you come up with as a first draft” don’t entice these students.

That’s why I’m not a stickler about deadlines. During read-arounds the students who wrote papers will spawn ideas for those who either couldn’t write or who haven’t learned homework patterns yet. They will teach them how to find a way to enter the assignment. Sometimes students write a weak “just to get it done” paper, then hear a student’s piece that sends them back home to write.

Conflict and Consciousness

As we solve problems, we create them. Untracking raised issues I haven’t had to deal with before. At Jefferson, ability grouping tends to divide down race and class lines, so there is less tension over these issues in homogeneously grouped classes — usually because one group feels too marginalized to speak out. This is not true in a “mixed up class” — especially when the curriculum I teach explicitly examines and challenges race, class, and gender inequities. Students who have been privilieged feel the weight and sometimes the guilt of that privilege. While other students feel outrage when they understand that “their prison decorated with modern illusion is still a prison,” as my student Tivon wrote. Put these two emotions, guilt and outrage, together in fifty-five minute periods and the result is conflict.

Race and class can become tender wounds where students and teacher either learn from one another or create inseparable gulfs. A student I’ll call Paul wrote, “ This is the first time in my history as a student where I would cry because of a class…I cried because I was a white male who had been through the scholars program, oblivious to tracking.”

Some turned that shame into anger. European-Americans didn’t want to feel guilty about the past or the present. In one class after the Rodney King verdict, almost every topic turned into a discussion on race, and the discussion always left someone feeling anxious, at the very least. As one student wrote in her evaluation, “I found myself contributing less to the class than I normally do. I had always thought of this class as a place where I could be free to express my ideas and have those ideas be respected, even if everyone doesn’t agree with them, but instead a lot of the time I found it to be a place where I had to watch my tongue for fear of being labeled a racist.” Later she added, “I know hearing what a lot of people had to say made me feel uncomfortable, but it changed some of my perceptions about the world, and our class.”

Sekou, an African-American male, provided an alternative perception to the same class:

It gets almost scary when we begin to touch on controversial racial issues or uncover other sheets that seemed to be intentionally pulled over our eyes. Everyone feels the seriousness in the room, but for some it turned them away. They became disgruntled with the class. “This always happens,” some said. But to me, it is beautiful. It makes me look forward to discussions, and I look forward to taking part. I think about the issues on my own outside of class. That never happened to me before. Class had always been separate from the real world. Finally, there is a connection.

Unfortunately, there is no quick exercise that makes inequality go away. This conflict and the discomfort have become more pronounced since the uprising in Los Angeles. It’s more acute in the senior year when students are competing for scholarships and entry into colleges.

I try to structure my Literature in American History class around movements where people worked together for change. I talk about constructing alternative moral ancestors — people we want in our family/racial history because they worked to end oppression. As Johanna wrote, “I’m glad we studied the abolitionists; they restored my faith in my race. I learned not to feel guilty for what my ancestors did. I am free to choose my own moral ancestors, and I have.”

I take Bill Bigelow’s idea of looking at the use of pronouns — who is the “we” students identify with? For example, when Leah said, “How did the Nez Perce feel when we took their land?” the class looked at the “we.” Did we identify with the settlers or with the people who were trying to keep land for the Nez Perce? Licy, a Mexican-American senior, told Joachim, a foreign exchange student from Germany, “You don’t have to feel guilty unless you identify with the part of the system that denies people their rights.”

Is there an alternative to this conflict? Change is sometimes painful. I don’t want my students feeling tongue-tied, but protecting them from reality is not a trade off I’m willing to make.


We can’t just wish tracking away. There are too many barriers and too much resistant on too many levels. The evidence against tracking is mounting. Parents, teachers, administors, and students need to be convinced that we can deliver a rigorous, challenging education for everyone in untracked classes. In addition to making a case against the injustice of tracking, we need to create a vision of education that serves all children. I am hopeful that change is possible. Teachers in my school and around the district are questioning practices that before were taken for granted. Now is the time for the education community to prove that justice and quality education are possible.

Linda Christensen is a Rethinking Schools editorial associate and teaches English at Jefferson High School in Portland, OR.