I agree that the persistent achievement gap at Oak Park and River Forest High School is a problem. While pursuing and implementing new programs for underachieving students may be prudent, I would suggest that little progress will be made toward closing the gap until the entire faculty sees the achievement gap as their problem. Yes, OPRF is a “top-notch school” with many wonderful academic opportunities, especially for high-achieving students. But if you asked teachers, “What are you doing to close the achievement gap at OPRF?” many would honestly have to answer, “Nothing. It’s not my problem.” They don’t teach those kids.
Before OPRF spends a cent on new programs, they should find a way to harness the numerous talents of all their well-paid faculty members in the effort to close the gap. This will involve some serious professional development. Assess teachers of honors level classes, remedial classes and all those in between in their use of proven best practices.
A teacher may be smart enough to teach the highest levels of math, but assessing students only with group quizzes and take-home tests, and advising students who do not understand the material to just drop down to a lower class is not high-level teaching. At the same time, a teacher of lower level math who never collects homework, gives regular quizzes but never returns them to the students, and wonders why the students do poorly on tests is doing nothing for this two-tiered status quo either. Expect your teachers to teach well, and if they don’t, expect them to improve.
And expect all your teachers to participate in some way toward reaching the goal of adequate yearly progress. A teacher with multiple sections of an AP class who offers before- and after-school study sessions, is clearly committed to the able students but is isolated from the achievement gap.
All teachers should take ownership of the problem because accepting the status quo reflects poorly on them. Yes, it may be difficult for a teacher who is accustomed to teaching only honors students or who values their personal teaching style over proven best practices to tackle the challenge of teaching kids for whom school is not fun, interesting, motivating. But there are some great teachers at OPRF who strive for excellence in teaching, whose methods for monitoring and promoting student achievement are organized, rigorous and, most of all, reproducible, who can mentor those in need of improvement in this new endeavor.
All the teachers should be working hard for all the students. It’s their job.