Moving forward with re-structured freshman courses

Opinion

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John Duffy

One View

During District 200 community conversations and in recent Wednesday Journal Viewpoints, critics and doubters of the proposed restructured freshman curriculum raise questions that challenge the research, data, design and planned implementation of curriculum changes aimed at bringing more racial equity and student access to honors option courses at OPRF High School. Such is the history of school reform, but especially so when reform seeks to challenge historic education inequities. 

The path forward for our high school has several indispensable guidelines: continue to study the "what" and "why" of the proposed freshman changes, including the research on tracking and de-tracking; heed our own history of persistent racial inequities in learning; and openly share our hopes and fears in launching this significant curriculum reform.

 

Attention to equity goals, instructional concerns 

As OPRF administrators maintain, it is mandatory that de-tracked programs support the academic and social growth of all students. They are upfront about the special challenges of proposed courses that will combine college prep and honors students. This includes how educators will ensure rigorous learning opportunities for all students in more racially diverse, welcoming, and emotionally safe classrooms. 

Important to note here, based on OPRF teacher analysis, is that a similar range of student achievement and preparation is now present in college prep and honors courses. Providing academic supports for all students, sharpening teacher application of differentiated instruction, and conducting formative and summative program evaluation with attention to racial equity are critical components of the evolving courses. Fortunately, teachers have been identifying and developing core components for successful design and implementation for the last two years.

 

Ongoing evaluation and design

In unprecedented work, teacher division teams created uniform performance standards and nationally aligned course assessments in 2018. They then conducted current freshman course evaluations from a racial equity perspective and uncovered significant inequities that re-structuring will address. Teachers and administrators continue to review the extensive national research base on tracking and de-tracking. A select sample of this research is now on the district's web page, Access for All. Guiding this review is a critical eye for the validity, context, a priori assumptions, and applicability that such research has for OPRF and our racial equity goals. 

 

Racial equity and community engagement

In 2016 the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education, along with APPLE (African-American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education) and the Suburban Unity Alliance, proposed key process elements for increasing racial equity in freshman curriculum. Features of the process we outlined, as noted above, have been underway. These actions include:

Sponsoring an open inquiry process with community, teacher and parent participation

Reviewing local and national research that examines the impact a tracked and de-tracked curriculum have on all students

Providing for ongoing input and community dialogue around the design and implementation of this program

Identifying the professional learning and student supports that a unitary academic curriculum requires

Ensuring rigorous learning for all students while including pathways for earning honors credit

Developing a strong, comprehensive independent evaluation.

To their credit, the D200 administration and school board have put in place key parts of a thoughtful, democratic and racially equitable curriculum change process. For certain, as supportive and oppositional voices in recent weeks demonstrate, we need to continue to bring more people into the conversation, while maintaining the district's priority on racial equity.

John Duffy chairs the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education which networks with APPLE, Oak Park Call to Action, Suburban Unity Alliance, the E-Team, D97 DivCo, SAY, and other racial equity advocates in Oak Park and River Forest.

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