The segregation of America’s public schools is a perpetual newsmaker. The fact that not even 1 percent of the incoming freshman class identifies as black at New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High School made national headlines last month. And New York isn’t unusual. The minority gap in enrollment at elite academic public schools is a problem across America.
But more troubling, and often less discussed, is the modern-day form of segregation that occurs within the same school through academic tracking, which selects certain students for gifted and talented education (GATE) programs. These programs are tasked with challenging presumably smart students with acceleration and extra enrichment activities. Other students are kept in grade-level classes, or tracked into remedial courses that are tasked with catching students up to academic baselines.
Black students make up nearly 17 percent of the total student population nationwide. Yet less than 10 percent of students in GATE are black. A shocking 53 percent of remedial students are black. This disparity across tracks is what social scientists commonly call “racialized tracking”—in which students of color get sorted out of educational opportunities and long-term socioeconomic success.