Liberal Individualism and the Globalization of Education as a Human Right: The Worldwide Decline of Early Tracking, 1960-2010

Sociology of Education

This article examines global changes in tracking policies over the post–World War II period. Using a newly constructed quantitative panel data set of 139 countries from 1960 to 2010, I show that a majority of countries around the world have shifted away from sharply tracked institutions at the junior secondary level toward more formally ‘‘open’’ and ‘‘comprehensive’’ ones. To explain this trend, I argue that worldwide shifts away from more stratified and corporatist conceptions of the polity toward more liberal models led to the construction of norms of individual egalitarianism in the educational process, and this process delegitimated tracking at early ages. Findings from a series of panel regression models indicate that countries that are more formally committed to individual rights and universalistic conceptions of the educational process are less likely to track students at the junior secondary level; some nation-specific characteristics, such as levels of economic development, also shape tracking at lower levels of schooling. Most countries, however, continue to track students at the senior secondary level. The persistence of tracking at this level suggests a tension between existing conceptions of education as a mechanism for both propagating equality and allocating individuals to unequal opportunities.