As a resident of Oak Park for nearly 30 years, I am writing in support of the District 200 Freshman Curriculum Restructuring proposal for Fall 2022.

Oak Park and River Forest are villages in which we wear our commitment to equity and diversity on our lawn signs. I ask our community to embrace in practice the beliefs that we set forth on our lawns: 

Black Lives Matter

We must recognize and reject negative assumptions made about Black students who enter our high school. 

We can no longer be comfortable with a tracking system where race is a significant predictor of placement.

If we believe that Black Lives Matter, we must commit to ensuring that every Black student has equitable opportunities and resources.

Science is real

The data is clear both nationally and in D200: Black and Brown students’ opportunities are limited by tracking. 

Conversely, data shows that when Black and Brown students — indeed all students — are provided access to high level, engaging coursework and teaching, they benefit greatly. More Black and Brown students exposed to honor courses during their freshman year results in their increased enrollment in honors and advanced placement later, and also to expanded college and life opportunities.

Kindness is everything

If we are serious about doing the right thing for all students, we must make changes that have shown promise in reducing persistent achievement gaps.

We must abandon the idea that courses only have value if they exclude many of our students.

Hope over fear 

D200 administrators, teachers, community members, and students have recognized that a true commitment to equity requires changing classroom structures. 

They have worked for four years to develop a restructured freshman curriculum.

As with any change, we can choose to search for information that reinforces our worst fears. The students of OPRF High School, however, deserve better. They deserve our hope and our work on behalf of all of them. 

Some critics of the freshman restructuring proposal have suggested that this campaign is untimely and that we should wait for further refinement of the proposal. 

Martin Luther King observed that campaigns for equity are never considered timely by those who enjoy the advantages of the status quo. Additionally, Dr. King noted that “wait,” for those seeking expanded, equitable opportunities almost always means “never.”

Now is the time for our community to live by the words on our lawn signs and to champion a more just educational system, beginning with the freshman restructured curriculum. 

Mary Bird is an educator and longtime Oak Park resident.

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