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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Restructuring and Reculturing Schools to Provide Students with Multiple Pathways to College and Career


The prevailing way of conceptualizing multiple pathways to college and career segregates or “tracks” students into college prep or voc-ed curriculum. Recent research and public commentary have shown that tracking neither provides students with equal educational opportunities nor serves the needs of employers for a well-educated workforce. Recognizing that tracked schools are both inequitable and ineffective, educators have been exploring alternatives to tracking practices since the 1980s.

This paper focuses on one attempt to redefine and restructure the academic curriculum, pedagogy, and course structures of California schools into “multiple pathways” to college and career. The Preuss School at UCSD “detracks” its curriculum, i.e., establishes high instructional standards and presents rigorous curriculum to all students while varying the supports available to enable all students to meet high the school’s academic standards.

Detracking high schools can provide students with access to multiple pathways when they complete high school. By gaining access to a rigorous academic curriculum, they are well prepared for both college and career. This approach requires a school district to assemble a portfolio of schools, each with a different theme or focus (such as performing arts, science academies, interactive technology, etc.). When a district assembles a portfolio of theme-based schools, each of them rigorous, then students (and their parents) are enabled to choose from an array of possibilities. This form of curriculum differentiation aligns well with the democratic project of providing equal opportunities for all students to learn and to have significant life choices when they complete high school.

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