Will freshmen be shortchanged?

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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As part of communicating OPRF High School's plan to eliminate the freshman honors track for English, science, history, and world language courses, Associate Superintendent Greg Johnson emailed OPRF families saying, "The research is clear that increasing access to more rigorous curriculum increases achievement." 

This echoes FAQ's OPRF High School's website, which says, "Won't this hurt students who would normally be placed in honors classes? Absolutely not." The website also includes a list of several research studies to support its findings. However, my independent review of the research paints a different picture. There are multiple studies finding that honors tracks are beneficial to the students in those tracks. This research points to the difficulty teachers have when classes have students with a wide variety of levels of ability and motivation. 

The common-sense conclusion could be correct, that eliminating honors courses may hurt students who would have been in those courses. Unfortunately, OPRF High School has only showcased the findings of a cherry-picked set of studies to support its plan, promoting the change as a clear benefit for all, rather than transparently explaining the pros and cons of the change. The school's spin on the research is so deceitful it can be described as Trump-ian. 

Eric Friedman

Oak Park

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Reader Comments

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Monica Sheehan  

Posted: September 22nd, 2019 8:07 PM

Chris, This issue is indeed complex. Regarding Ivy League admission acceptance rates, it's important to underscore that Ivy League colleges do not grant merit aid. The Ivy League is truly only an option for the student whose family can pay full ride or the student who qualifies for financial aid. Ivy League colleges are not an option for many academically qualified students at D200 whose families make up the middle class.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: September 22nd, 2019 11:32 AM

Eric fair points but the issue is very complex. OPRF is at critical point which will determine if it provides top notch education or slips further into mediocrity. OPRF only sent 6 of 900 graduates to Ivy League last year while schools like Whitney/ New Treir had 30-40 with same or fewer students. While not the only measure it provides a data point and combined with test scores, lets us know we need change. For those kids who could not test into honors - this is great if they put in work. It will be a challenge for teachers to work effectvily with such a wide range of students.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 22nd, 2019 10:01 AM

My kids took as many honors classes as they could when they attended OPRF. Besides learning much more than they would otherwise have, they gained college credits. To a parent, that means your kid goes to college with a half year or more of college credits already done. That can be worth tens of thousands of dollars to the parents in college tuition they can then avoid paying. So eliminating honors courses will financially hurt any family who would have been in those courses by reducing those credits and the value they have. Whatever study or research they want to show is not changing that fact.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: September 21st, 2019 8:01 PM

@Eric Friedman: I heard you speak Weds. at OPRF, about "cherry picking of data, the concept of ""positive predictive values" and "correlation coefficients of 0.0".Those were the first shots fired at Lexington. Any interest in forming an opposition with a more productive approach than OPRF has now?. Write to me at my Facebook account,, or look me in up in the online "White Pages".To others: Do the same. Carpe diem. '

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: September 21st, 2019 6:36 PM

Thanks for this piece Mr. Friedman. This new policy does nothing more than neatly fit into the agenda of leadership at OPRF. You see, since they can't lift up the black students, the next best thing is to dumb down the white ones. All in order to have "equal outcomes". The end justifies the means. They will spin this as "social justice" or more "diversity" in the classroom, etc. Welcome to 1984 where 2 + 2 = 5.

Robert Zeh  

Posted: September 21st, 2019 4:18 PM

I read through some of the papers that OPRF linked to in support of detracking. They should not be used to determine public policy because they are flawed. The flaws range from cherry picked statistics (the Evanston paper looks at ACTs above 24 rather than the entire distribution) to papers that measured what happened at schools that implemented detracking and a host of other changes, making attribution difficult or impossible. One of the papers isn't even about the advisability of detracking, but about how to politically implement detracking.

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