Children are inherently unique, brilliant, and dynamic. Human nature suggests we all have certain strengths and weaknesses, and we mature at different times in our lives. To only offer a singular curriculum for all ninth-graders is anything but brave or bold. It is bland, afraid, uninspiring, and limiting.
The first section of OPRF’s own Board Policy Document, under the title Human Dignity, states: “Each individual shall be considered as unique with individual strengths, talents, skills and shortcomings.” It further states that students “shall be regarded in the same high esteem; and shall equally be encouraged to fulfill his or her potential as a human being.” What it does not say is that we should reduce options for our children and take one full year (out of only four) and offer a single level of coursework regardless of a child’s academic maturity and interests as they enter the ninth grade.
OPRF is currently providing access, flexibility, choice and opportunity to families. In doing so, OPRF’s current curriculum is also honoring the spirit of OPRF High School, our diverse and vibrant community, and the human condition.
OPRF claims to be an evidence-based organization. However, when it comes to detracking, the evidence is mixed at best, and frankly that is being generous. We all know deep down that detracking will likely help some children and will likely hold others back. Common sense tells us the new classroom experience will likely end up somewhere in between the current Honors and College Preparatory rigor level. We can do better.
When any organization offers up research they claim is clear and definitive but in reality is not an apples to apples analysis, it highlights a culture that is willing to cut corners, or worse. That is called confirmation bias, whereby someone searches for certain data just to confirm a preconceived belief. Instead of letting the data lead to discovery, OPRF is allowing their own conclusion to lead. The closest thing we have to an actual real-world detracking example is Evanston Township High School. They have tried something similar to OPRF’s plan. In fact, there is an article about Evanston on our own OPRF website. The recent achievement data coming out of Evanston is sad and should act as a word of caution if we were to follow such a path.
Our children are unique, quirky, and beautifully different. Everyone knows this. Our brave teachers just want to teach. Many in our community once thought our school welcomed diversity, which used to include diversity of thought. Such openness and debate is now broken at OPRF.
If we actually want to help our students grow and close the opportunity gap, we need honest conversations about why the gap exists in the first place — before students come to OPRF. We need to expand community-based early childhood services and be prepared to support our children’s differences, not treat them as if they are all the same. We need solutions-based school community conversations focused on better outcomes for our children instead of blame-based conversations, politics and buzzwords.
Just imagine if instead of spending years and years’ worth of time and resources on unproven strategies, we offered longer class time, early reading intervention, free summer school, increased enrichments, continued with course choice, and used mentoring to reach children who needed our help.
Our kids would have been better off.
Ross Lissuzzo is an Oak Park native and current River Forest resident.