It is entirely unfair that we currently have a system where eighth-grade students must decide before they enter high school whether they will take Honors classes during their freshman year. And unfortunately, once a student starts a high school track, it is very difficult for them to switch. So the current system results in eighth-graders making decisions that will affect them throughout high school and quite possibly after their high school careers have ended.
The current system also privileges those students who start with advantages — who are white, who are wealthy, who have parents or guardians who attended college. This is because those parents are more likely to have access to resources to prepare their children to jump into the current Honors curriculum as freshmen. Black students and other students of color, who do not feel welcomed by the school system, are less likely to participate when that decision must be made before starting high school.
OPRF’s curriculum restructuring plan is a thoroughly-planned, well-developed structure that will allow all students the opportunity to experience an Honors-level curriculum. Students who are certain that they would have taken a dedicated Honors class will still learn that same material. Students who are less certain will receive support so they can learn this material as well. And since there will be no tracking of freshmen, all students will benefit from learning together with a greater mix of peers, developing the social and relational understanding that will benefit them, our community, and our broader democratic society.
Once students receive this support and have this experience as freshmen, they will still have access to Honors and Advanced Placement classes in the higher grade levels. The restructuring plan does not take opportunities from anyone. Instead, it gives opportunities to more people.
Unfortunately, not all of the candidates for the District 200 school board election on April 6 see it that way. Fred Arkin, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Elias Ortega, Kebreab Henry, and Tom Cofsky have all expressed support for the district’s freshman restructuring. But David Schrodt has stated his desire to suspend this plan and stop this progress.
Mr. Schrodt describes the restructuring plan as “mixing people up and throwing them together,” but nothing could be further from the truth. OPRF has been considering how to address its educational inequities for decades and has been working on the restructuring plan for the past four years. Staff members have done their research, and the research clearly demonstrates that tracking students has no discernable benefit for students at any level. Instead, providing all students with a rigorous curriculum and the support they need to learn that curriculum is what makes the difference. That is what creates the opportunities our students need.
“The land of opportunity” is one of the essential mottos of this nation. Let’s ensure that Oak Park continues to be a community of opportunity by allowing students to experience freshman year without being tracked. Let’s vote for the school board candidates who support OPRF’s restructuring plan — Arkin, Mohanraj, Henry, Ortega, and Cofsky — and against the one candidate, Schrodt, who wants to stop opportunity in its tracks.
And once the election is over, let’s support the school board and OPRF staff to implement the freshman restructuring plan to provide our students with the opportunities they deserve.
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.