As a member of the Committee for Equity and Excellence, the District 200 Strategic Plan Steering Committee in 2012, and the Strategic Plan’s Task Force on Teaching and Learning in 2012-13 and again in 2017, I fully support the evolving restructured freshman curriculum at OPRF High School — most importantly, the proposed freshman restructuring supports goals set forth in D200’s Racial Equity Policy. The process that accompanied the freshman curriculum proposals was long, public and transparent.

The process underway

The long road began with the landmark Learning Community Performance Gap Study in 2003. The current restructuring reform combining the college preparatory and honors tracks at the freshman level is not a passing fancy. This change is guided by our own evidence and substantial critical national research. It also follows board guidelines that program innovations aimed at racial equity should be accompanied by transparent quantitative and qualitative evaluation.

The proposed changes were also preceded by teacher development of uniform learning standards and common course assessments during the 2017-2018 school year. These provisions help ensure that high-level program expectations for all students become the norm. Last year, teachers’ evaluation of existing freshman courses was guided by key features of a racial equity impact analysis. Their findings of unfair racial disparities in opportunity to learn and their ongoing study of the extensive literature on curriculum equity are reflected in the curriculum changes being proposed.

Some supportive research

The most comprehensive national review of reading and writing instruction by Hattie and others (2014) concludes that ability grouping or tracking for literacy learning has a negative growth impact for lower-achieving students. Hattie also asserts, as a generation of D200’s own research demonstrates, that tracking creates inequitable racial segregation of our students and that it disrupts “the learning community, socially ostracizes some learners, and compromises social skills. … The effect on minority students is much more serious with more minority students likely to be in lower-ability classes destined to demonstrate low performance, often with the least effective teachers.”

Wells, Fox & Cordova-Cobo (2016), in an extensive research review of the beneficial impact of racially diverse classrooms, maintain that these classrooms bring important cognitive, social, emotional, and cultural growth that benefits all students regardless of race or class. They assert that “diverse classrooms, in which students learn cooperatively alongside those whose perspectives and backgrounds are different from their own, are beneficial to all students, including middle-class white students, because they promote creativity, motivation, deeper learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.”

The strategic plan and racial equity

The restructuring of freshman courses is a fulfillment of racial equity goals set forth in the district’s strategic plan process, which commenced in 2012. The adoption of equity-driven approaches around teaching and learning has been an open, transparent development involving parents, community members and teachers. The administration presents quarterly updates to the board of education. Ongoing review and recommendations from a citizen accountability committee have assured the community that the educational goals of the District 200 Strategic Plan remain central to achieving racial equity.

The final freshman course proposals the board will ultimately approve remain unclear. But what is absolutely clear is that any changes presented will conform to the goals, procedures and accountability features of the District 200 Racial Equity Policy.

The path to reaching the day when all of our students, regardless of race or socio-economic position, have access to the highest quality of learning opportunities still remains an aspiration at OPRF High School. I believe the restructured freshman curriculum will move us closer to transforming the goal of equity and excellence for all into a reality.

John Duffy, an Oak Park resident, founded the Committee for Equity and Excellence.

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