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Recommended Reading   |    Why Ability-Grouping Widens the Academic Achievement Gap
Recommended Reading
Oakes, Jeannie Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality (1985)
Yale University Press, New Haven and London  213 pages plus notes & index

Keeping Track was selected as one of ten "must read" books by the American School Board Journal in 1985.  A comprehensive study of ability-grouping practices and tracking, it is a must read for education activists.
Bowles, Samuel & Gintis, Herbert  Schooling in Capitalist America (1976)
Basic Books, Inc., Harper Torchbooks  New York;  303 pages plus notes & index

Bowles and Gintis explain how the public school system prepares students for their future roles in society.  In addition to helping students acquire the knowledge and skills needed by their future employers, the schools help them adjust to their future status as low-wage workers, highly compensated professionals, or something in between.  If you don't read the whole book, read chapter 4, "Education, Inequality, and the Meritocracy" and Chapter 6, "The Origins of Mass Public Education."     
Ravitch, Diane  Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (2000)
Simon and Schuster,  New York,  467 pages plus notes and index
Updated 12 October 2001

Ravitch, a former Assistant Secretary of Education (US) argues that nearly all public school children can benefit from a liberal education that prepares them for college.  Instead of doing that, students are commonly sorted and assigned to groups and curriculum tracks according to judgments about their academic ability.  The curriculum for most is dumbed-down to varying degrees.   It was a progressive-era (1890-1920) reform movement that created this stratified educational system, and most of the reformers of that era called themselves "progressives."  A liberal education for blacks, poor whites and the children of immigrants was opposed because it would make them unsuited for menial jobs.

Ravitch explains the creation of a stratified educational system as the work of "progressive" social engineers.  However, there is no class analysis.  Left Back does not address the question: Who benefits from the creation of a stratified school system? However, despite its interpretation of history, Left Back does a pretty good job of telling the story of how the public school system was overhauled during the progressive era.

Another shortcoming of Left Back is the absence of a serious critique of the neo-conservative school reform movement of the 1980s and 1990s.  Ravitch doesn't say much about it, but suggests that the neo-conservative school reform movement is basically on the right track.  Ravitch has played a role in the neo-conservative school reform movement as a policy advisor to presidents Bush 1 and 2.  
Berliner, David C. & Biddle, Bruce J.
The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools  (1995)
Perseus Books;  Reading, Massachusetts  350 pages plus notes, references, and index

The Manufactured Crisis critiques the agenda of the 'neo-conservative' school reform movement of the 1980's: More testing, gifted education and ability-grouping, voucher programs, charter schools, and the abandonment of efforts to close the academic achievement gap between blacks and whites.  I might add that the neo-conservative school reform agenda of the 1980's is remarkably similar to the 'neo-liberal' school reform agenda of the 1990's. The Manufactured Crisis does an excellent job of debunking the culture of poverty theory, which holds that educational outcomes are a reflection of a student's home environment and that disparities in education-related outcomes between poor and middle class students are not greatly influenced by what happens inside the classroom.