Loveless' research shows that the anti-tracking movement had some effect, although middle schools and high schools still have one set of courses for college-oriented students and a less demanding set in the same subjects for those not so academically inclined.
The biggest triumph of the anti-trackers has been the opening of college-level classes such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and the Advanced International Certificate of Education to all students who want to take them.
Ability grouping declined more sharply than tracking did in the face of the scholarly assault. A 1986 Johns Hopkins survey found bluebird/redbird/canary/etc. groupings in at least 80 percent of elementary schools.
By the mid-1990s, such grouping had dropped to as low as 27 percent, according to another study.
Then it rebounded. A 2006 survey found that ability grouping was back to 63 percent of teachers.
The jump was even more pronounced in fourth-grade reports from the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, from 28 percent of students in ability groups in 1998 to 71 percent in 2009. The jump in math ability groups was from 40 percent of students in 1996 to 61 percent in 2011.
Washington area school officials tell me tracking and ability grouping is permitted as long as students are not stuck at one level and are helped to improve.
Studies show teachers prefer ability grouping to teaching all students, fast and slow, at the same time. Ability grouping also helps them focus on those children closest to reaching the proficiency targets under No Child Left Behind.
This retread from my youth is back, and likely to stay, no matter what researchers and my mom think of it.
Mathews is education writer of The Washington Post.