To the skeptics who believe that Oak Park and River Forest High School only talks a good game on racial equity, that genuine change will never come, that small tweaks around distant edges are the best this district will ever risk, we point to last week’s announcement that beginning in 2021 academic tracking will essentially be eliminated for freshmen.
What does this mean? That, outside of math, freshmen currently slotted into college prep or honors classes will share a single, more rigorous curriculum in their first year at the school. So instead of arriving pre-judged on the basis of standardized tests or elementary school recommendations, every student has that year to prove themselves able to excel academically, to, as the school describes it, earn their way into honors.
If this works, as sophomore year nears, a greater percentage of all students, especially students of color, will opt in to honors and AP classes. Where necessary, supports will be added to boost students, including, the school says, to boost top learners even higher. If this works, those classes in English, history, science will be more racially integrated than ever before, which will only enhance the learning environment for every student.
The district has chosen to spend two years planning for this radical change. A focus on teacher and administrative development, culturally responsive teaching and data-driven instruction will consume this year. And next year, 2020-21, the school will test multiple pilot projects to get ready.
We are enthusiastic about our high school’s sincere and bold action to jolt a system that has perpetuated inequity between white students and those of color. This change is real and profound and, like everything at OPRF, overdue.