Because the teenagers in low tracks are most often poor and minority students, tracking both reflects the class and racial inequalities of the larger society and helps to perpetuate them. Oakes bases her conclusions on comprehensive data about student achievement and attitudes in twenty-five representative schools. The data show that students in low tracks receive an inferior education in terms of the amount of culturally valued knowledge transmitted, the conditions of their classrooms, and the quality of their school relationships with adults and classmates.
Oakes maintains that when students are grouped heterogeneously, the average and below-average students learn better, and the above average students learn just as well as they do when tracked into separate groups. She proposes that tracking be replaced by heterogeneous grouping and offers guidelines for more effective teaching within this framework.
Oakes also traces the historical roots of tracking, the role it has played in desegregated multiethnic schools, and the constitutional issues surrounding the practice.