In August 2019, OPRF announced the plan for curriculum restructuring that would eliminate separate honors classes for freshmen beginning in 2021 (de-tracking). On Feb. 27 the administration conveyed a plan to delay implementation until 2022 and cited teacher preparedness as cause. 

I applaud the OPRF administration for listening to teacher voices and slowing down its plans. Training teachers to effectively provide instruction in classrooms with students of a broad range of achievement records is a daunting task, so it is no surprise that the teachers expressed concerns that it was moving forward too quickly. 

However, teacher concerns about the curriculum restructuring that took place in River Forest makes me wonder if there is more to the story. Three years ago, District 90 began implementing the K-8 version of the proposed OPRF District 200 curriculum restructuring. It eliminated advanced math in elementary, switched from curricula designed for explicit differentiated instruction to constructivist curricula and adopted the Lucy Calkins curriculum for reading and writing. 

Calkins, a professor at Columbia University developed the mostly widely used curriculum for reading and writing instruction that experts say is deeply flawed. Early on, the administration reported to the D90 Board of Education that teachers were on board. In these three years student achievement has fallen, two of three River Forest schools have lost exemplary status and, most notably, teachers have protested the new curriculum in one of the very few ways they can. 

The 5Essentials survey of teachers, administered by the Illinois State Board of Education, has 19 measures of school learning climate. Measures such as Instructional Leadership, School Commitment, Teacher Influence, and Teacher-Parent Trust reflect teacher opinions of the climate at a school. At Roosevelt Middle School, which recently lost exemplary status, teachers ranked all measures lower in 2019 than they did the last time the survey was administered in 2017. Instructional leadership had the largest decline. 

After the 2017 survey, Roosevelt ranked in the 42nd percentile statewide in Instructional Leadership. In 2019, it plummeted to the 8th percentile. Resignations were unusually high after the ’18-’19 school year, and I anticipate this will be raised as an important issue in the teachers’ 2020 contract negotiations. 

The point is, the teachers were not on board. They’re still not. They won’t talk about it publicly for a variety of reasons, but this is the obvious lesson from the 2019 5Essentials survey. 

I therefore applaud D200’s decision to delay freshmen curriculum restructuring. Further, D200 should anonymously survey its teachers to get their objective input on the wisdom of de-tracking. Researchers and parents agree that the teacher is the most important ingredient in academic excellence. Evanston is still producing abysmal teacher ratings on 5Essentials Survey 10 years after it implemented de-tracking. Any plan that teachers don’t strongly support in an objective survey should be reconsidered. The results of the survey should be shared with the community so we can all understand whether the OPRF teachers are really on board with this effort.

Steve Lefko

River Forest

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