Take steps to help struggling students at OPRF. Do it now.

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David Harris

I would like to thank Ralph Lee for his article concerning the achievement gap at Oak Park and River Forest High School [Taking another look at the achievement gap at OPRF, Viewpoints, Dec. 1]. With the recent decision by the Evanston school board to eliminate its freshmen honors course, the time is now right for OPRF to begin to seriously think about how to address this issue. I agree that framing the problem into one that affects students from a variety of backgrounds at the school might be a way to alter the discussion. Unfortunately, even at a school in a community like Oak Park, race plays a pivotal factor in how things are viewed, and in this case whose children will get priority. I do think that those parents who complain and are most vocal will get the attention, and for whatever reason black parents have not been as vocal as they probably need to be in order to see this gap closed.

My major issue is that everyone is fully aware that there is a problem regarding how OPRF serves students who are not on the fast track to college. I would even go further to say that, as a parent, I think the school does not serve students well in a variety of ways. My experience is that, if your child receives decent grades, tests well and keeps out of trouble, OPRF is a good place. But if you have a child who struggles in any way, you will find a school with no advocates for your child and no real answers for parents in how to address academic and social issues. However, I think the fundamental question for the board, administration and parents is what is the next step? We all know that there is a problem, and that many students fall through the cracks at OPRF. The school should begin to look at ways to address this issue by studying what is being done at schools around the country and in our area to address the gap. APPLE had an informative speaker on the issue a year or two ago, but nothing seems to have happened since that time.

Oak Park might also seriously consider the concept of a school within a school, where students who benefit from a smaller environment could be better served. I would also like to see an advisory system. I have talked to administrators and other parents about this over the years. Both middle schools in Oak Park have successful advisory programs, and so do other excellent high schools in our area. I think it would make a real difference in establishing a sense of community at the school, and could be used as a vehicle to help students who have academic challenges. In a school of more than 3,000 students, I think it would be helpful if there were at least one adult at OPRF whose responsibility was to make sure that individual students stayed on track, and more importantly as a parent, someone I could call who knows my child and would be his or her advocate. Evanston's bold step to eliminate honors courses might also be considered.

I think the time has come for short-term and long-term goals on this issue, and I would challenge the board and administration to move forward on this as soon as possible. I feel quite strongly that, if the school keeps doing what it is doing, nothing of substance will change. Now is the time for action and a sense of urgency on this issue. I strongly feel that a measure of a school is not how it serves its highest achieving students, who by any measure would do well wherever they attended, but how well it serves its average and struggling students.

It's time is to see all of OPRF students as capable of achieving at a high academic level.

David Harris is a former Oak Park resident who lives in Olympia Fields, Ill. His youngest son is a junior at OPRF, and he has worked in education for 18 years, currently as an eighth-grade teacher at a Chicago private school.

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Reader Comments

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AW from Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2011 9:13 AM

I feel that oak park police officers should be allowed to carry close and long range tazors. Although there is some conseversy on this issue, with crime the way it is recently I feel it would be a very valuable tool for both apprehending suspects and also to defend themselves.

Violet Aura  

Posted: January 3rd, 2011 11:50 AM

@DJ: I would never claim that teachers shouldn't or cannot improve students' academic performance if all the right factors are there and in today's world they are not. A big one is class size. With all the budget cuts, you have classes much larger than in the past, along with troubled students (yes, the ones from outside OPRF, in particular) who need more personal attention, as well as social workers. Bashing teachers is in right now; probably a ploy to break the teachers' unions.


Posted: January 2nd, 2011 7:38 PM

Violet- You are right that at least most parents could not teach honors English. But it is equally unrealistic to believe that the school has no role to play in helping struggling students -- that it is solely the responsiblity of parents, which is what I undestand you to have been arguing. It is inconsistent to believe that the school can help advanced students, but not struggling students. If that is not what you are arguing, I would be happy to learn otherwise.

Violet Aura  

Posted: January 2nd, 2011 2:39 PM

@DJ: Huh? Dewd, you are all over the map--not sure WTF you are on about. All I am saying is that it's sheer madness to eliminate an honors program because other kids are not at that level. Your statement about it not mattering because the parents are involved is nonsensical. The parents probably cannot teach Honors English, I assume. However, parents can set limits on whether their "babies" are out on the streets at night instead of cracking the books. It's not rocket science.


Posted: December 31st, 2010 3:18 PM

Violet/Freespirit- First, you cite no evidence that the problems with drugs and other misbehavior is as overwhelming as you say, though one would expect there to be problems in a school as large as OPRFHS. More critically, you cite no evidence for concluding that the "problem" kids come largely from outside OP. Indeed, that notion is counterintuitive. Kids whose parents are so involved with them as to assume the trouble and risk of sending them to OP schools would likely be less troublesome.


Posted: December 31st, 2010 3:08 PM

In my view, Violet, you "recoiled" at Harris' suggestion that we consider Evanston's having eliminated freshman honor classes. If you prefer "intensely disliked," or some other description, that's fine by me. I would have to know more before I could evaluate Harris' suggestion, but if you think there is nothing we could do with the schools that would be helpful or relevant, why would you even care if they eliminated freshman honors classes? It's all up to the parents and churches anyway, right?

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 31st, 2010 1:17 PM

@Freespirit: I never thought about them coming from the Southside but the Greenline ends at Englewood. All you need is an OP address and it's all good. I saw a girl get off the bus in Berwyn a couple of years ago so there's another locale, and I am sure that Maywood is "representing," too, LOL. It really seems to be out of control. I have seen some kids at Scoville Park after school and they act like they were raised by wolves--fighting, screaming profanities in front of everyone.

Freespirit from coke park  

Posted: December 31st, 2010 1:09 PM

Violet you are so right! Our deans are so overwhelmed at OPRFHS with all the problem kids, those with "write-ups" those who have been smokin weed, fighting, in detention, didn't go to detention, the list goes on and on & would make your head spin. Parents can't be found or don't want to be found because they don't live "close by" if ya know what I mean! By the time they come from the South side by bus, school would be closed, and Ut O, someone may find out the truth about WHERE they live.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 31st, 2010 11:37 AM

@DJ: Show me where I "recoiled" at anything. I am living in the reality of the situation. There are thousands of students attending OPRF. Some of these kids don't even live in the district; their lives are probably much different than the average student and their needs are much greater. We simply do not have enough tutors, social workers, and truant officers to work intimately with the teens (rather than superficial contact with a bunch of kids). It's a nice thought, but we have to be grounded.


Posted: December 31st, 2010 11:16 AM

The difference in our viewpoints is that you think the "out of school" solution precludes doing anything now about the schools. I think both in-school and out-of-school solutions should be addressed at the same time. I do not accept the premise that teachers cannot help students that do not have parental involvement. And it is hardly a "solution" to defer responsibilty parents, churches and community groups. Precisely how do you propose to make that happen? Without specifics, it is just pablum.


Posted: December 31st, 2010 9:50 AM

DJ Endless Talk Here with no local solutions offered. why say - "of course parenting is a key factor" and than go on to the school. Teachers can not make kids learn if the home is not demanding excellence. This is what we are saying. Why must you attack - no one is recoiling, we are just saying Parents, Churches, Community groups and Mentoring is the solution - to show support and motivate.


Posted: December 31st, 2010 9:15 AM

Violet/CL- Look at the internal inconsistency of your positions. You recoil at the suggestion of any change that you think would adversely affect the "smart" kids. But you then contend that any effort by the school to assist struggling kids is irrelevant because parents are the sole solution. You can't have both ways. Of course parenting is a key factor. The school also is a key factor.


Posted: December 31st, 2010 8:41 AM

The dumbing down of education. Lower the teaching of high achievers to bring the lower ones to the SAME level -- does that make ANY sense? Of course not. Look, the GAP has been around for as long a man kind. Only difference was kids that were in the lower level dropped out of school - Yes that was allowed. The ONLY way to deal with this is Parents, Churches, Community groups & mentoring YEARS before kids get to HS. All solutions begin OUTSIDE of the Classroom.

Great Article  

Posted: December 30th, 2010 8:56 AM

cont: While I hear the argument of it starts in the home, I don't want to see a generation of students lost (mostly minority, mostly male). Whether parents don't fight for their kids because they don't feel welcome, don't know how, or just don't have the time to take off work to do so, doesn't really matter at this point. We want our students to do well and it is the responsibility of OPRF to work towards that goal. All students going there deserve the same respect and chance. That's only fair

Great Article  

Posted: December 30th, 2010 8:53 AM

I have to say that I think you definitely hit the nail on the head with your article. OPRF is a great school, no denying that. However, as you said, there aren't enough advocates for the students who struggle. My child does not and is in several honors courses. The sad fact is that the honors classes are still not diverse enough. It will take a combination of ideas and people involved to make a difference and it is possible.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 29th, 2010 7:51 PM

Continued: The answer starts in the home. As hard as this is to accept, the school system will NEVER be a substitute for the family unit. Look at OPRF: there are simply too many kids to be that on top of every child's constant progress. I do recall my dean trying to guide me back in the day, so I don't know if that still applies, but it is unfortunate to see people not putting the onus on parents and expecting everyone else to step up to the plate. Ain't gonna happen and it shouldn't happen.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 29th, 2010 7:47 PM

@David Harris: Did you really just write what I think you did? You are even suggesting such a thing (eliminating tracks)?! What, pray tell, would that accomplish besides make those in the lower tracks feel "better" about themselves (which is a temporary fix)? What about those who are clearly advanced? Should they be sentenced to an inferior education? The gap starts in the primary grades, honey. By the time high school rolls around, these kids are dejected. They have had many failures by then.

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: December 29th, 2010 8:30 AM

D97 is waking up. GAP Begins - Primary Level. Roberts said "If you're going to deal with an achievement gap wherever it is, the place to deal with that is at the primary grade level," We finally have a CEO of D97, Albert Roberts and a Board member - Michelle Harton who get it - and want to begin to deal with the GAP and issues around it. Congratulations are in order as we enter 2011. Between this and all day Kinder, real progress can begin to be made. What has Ralph Lee Done?

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