Study Snapshot: 21st Century Tracking and De Facto School Segregation: Excluding and Hoarding Access to College Prep
Study Snapshot: 21st Century Tracking and De Facto School Segregation: Excluding and Hoarding Access to College Prep

For Immediate Release: April 12, 2021

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Tong Wu,
(202) 238-3233, (202) 957-3802 (cell)

Study Snapshot: 21st Century Tracking and De Facto School Segregation: Excluding and Hoarding Access to College Prep

Study: "21st Century Tracking and De Facto School Segregation: Excluding and Hoarding Access to College Prep”
Author: Heather E. Price (Marian University)

This study will be presented today at the AERA 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting. 
Session: Schools and Social Policy: Segregation, Housing, and Transportation
Date/Time: Monday, April 12, 9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. ET

Main Finding:

  • The prevalence of Black, non-Hispanic students in high schools that do not offer any AP or IB courses in multi-school districts that fund college-prep curricula cannot be explained by resource or school factors.


  • Using national data, this study examined how the characteristics of a high school related to whether it offers students Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, when the high school is in a multi-high school district that offers these college-preparation curricula.
  • The author found that nationally, Indigenous students as well as Black, non-Hispanic students often find themselves enrolled in high schools without these curricula offered even though their district offers it in another high school. Students with other racial or ethnic identities do not find themselves relegated to schools without college-prep curricula.
  • The author found that bigger high schools with more resources are more likely to offer AP or IB curricula. Title I schools that serve substantial numbers of students experiencing poverty are 22 percent less likely to offer AP or IB compared to the schools in their district that are not Title I schools. (Prior research shows that Title I schools often need to minimalize gifted and talented curricular needs in lieu of more urgent student needs of special education, language, or health which demand the use of the schools’ finite resources.) 
  • The author’s analysis found that school size explains the upward skew related to Asian enrollments in AP and IB, and that Title I status explains the Indigenous enrollments downward skew. This means that the differences in the racialized enrollment patterns of these student groups is a function of resources in these districts and not independently associated with heritage.
  • However, this is not the case for Black, non-Hispanic students; the differences in their enrollments in schools without college-preparation courses are not explained away with Title I or school size factors.
  • “There is a real and substantial relationship between the proportion of Black, non-Hispanic students enrolled in a school and whether the district puts college-prep resources in that school,” said author Heather E. Price, an assistant professor of education at Marian University. “These separate schools within a district work to specifically de facto segregate Black, non-Hispanic students from schools with college-prep learning opportunities.”
  • The author explained that districts with multiple high schools often concentrate college-prep resources into single schools. This is done by funneling students into standalone “college-prep specialty” tracked schools that house particularly large portions of their college-prep curricula in a single school. Multi-school districts commonly offer a variety of high schools: specialty schools, schools with no college prep, and/or comprehensive schools with some college-prep learning opportunities.
  • In districts with fairly diverse student populations, where specialty schools have not existed, the author found that specialty schools are less likely to be created as the proportion of White, non-Hispanic student population increases in a district. That is, the district is slower to establish a specialty school as the proportion of the White, non-Hispanic students in the district rise. But districts are more likely to establish college-prep specialty schools as the proportion of White, non-Hispanic students becomes less of the majority.
  • The author found that college-prep specialty schools also occur more often among hyper-segregated districts or in districts with smaller White populations.
  • “Some districts relegate students to schools that offer no AP or IB while other students in their district get the chance to take these courses,” said Price. “My research found that between-school tracking of Black students to no college-prep schools is especially prevalent.”
  • “There is glaring race-based inequality—schools with no college-prep curricula serve substantially greater proportions of Black students than the other schools in the same district,” Price said.
  • “While tracking in the 20th century meant funneling certain students within a school on the honors course track, today it’s happening under the auspice of AP and IB courses, not only within schools but between them,” said Price.
  • “Formal between-school tracking with college prep in some schools and absent from others within the same district likely is a direct consequence of the rise of school choice,” said Price. “This has given more power to wealthy parents who demand their children’s placement in specialty schools in their districts over their neighborhood school.”
  • The study used data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Stanford Education Data Archive. One limitation to these data is the absence of information on the schools’ achievement scores, which means the study could not test whether the schools not offering AP or IB serve students with lower-than-average achievement scores.

To request a copy of the full paper, or to talk to the study author, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, cell: (202) 288-9333; Tong Wu, Communications Associate,, cell: (202) 957-3802


About AERA
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.