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research in brief

The division of students into tracks based on aptitude testing is deeply embedded in U.S. high schools. The practice also embeds deep racial divisions, says Dr. Sharon Chubbuck, associate professor of education. “It’s common to have all-white honors classes,” she says. The result: “We miss the development of an awful lot of talent.”

Teachers have adjusted methods to a wider range of skill levels — “something that’s very difficult,” notes Ellwood, who brings to the project three decades of experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools, including as teacher, principal and 35-school regional executive. Although removing tracking is certainly difficult politically, the hardest work may involve confronting racial norms and expectations of parents, teachers and students. The school has had structured hardhitting “courageous conversations about race” that have left some participants in tears.

The full story ... has yet to unfold, but it strikes at what Ellwood calls “the most pressing and demanding challenge in American education today —achieving racial equity.”

Dr. Cynthia Ellwood

Results covering the first student cohort to spend four years under the system show that the school’s ACT test scores and Advanced Placement test results reached historic highs. The classes actually grew more demanding, researchers found. Midway through their research, the researchers are sure they’re studying an undertaking that will resonate nationally. The full story involving many important actors has yet to unfold, but it strikes at what Ellwood calls “the most pressing and demanding challenge in American education today — achieving racial equity.” BRUCE MURPHY


Read about the project of Chubbuck and Ellwood funded by the strategic innovation fund:

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marquette university discover 2016

Clinical Associate Professor, Educational Policy and Leadership

More than four years after the idea won approval over objections from some community members, this experiment is continuing through the efforts of administrators, teachers, board members and students. Once divided into four different tracks (based on one score from a standardized test taken in eighth grade), the school now places more than 90 percent of freshmen in rigorous English, history and biology classes where honors credit is earned through individual performance.


So when Chubbuck and Dr. Cynthia Ellwood, clinical associate professor in educational policy and leadership, learned of a bold experiment to dismantle tracking in a diverse school district outside a major U.S. city, they craved opportunities to learn more. Eventually, they were granted extensive access to the school and district, becoming the first academic team to study this important case. As part of the research protocol, the high school will not be named.




Dr. Sharon Chubbuck

Associate Professor and Director, Graduate Studies, Educational Policy and Leadership


When high school tracks are dismantled

Profile for Marquette University

Discover Magazine 2016  

Discover Magazine 2016