Rising expectations

Opinion: Editorials

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Last week, in the first of four public meetings, OPRF officials faced a packed house of parents — curious and critical, supportive and dubious — ready to hear more about the school's bold plan to eliminate academic tracking for freshmen beginning two school years from now.

This bold change is critical and overdue. It acknowledges and seeks to upend the reality that the long practice of assigning incoming freshmen to a future of either an honors track or the far more basic college prep track determines outcomes. It recognizes that the basis of these determinative tracking assignments is based on seriously imperfect measures of standardized tests and a recommendation system between middle schools and the high school that is flawed. More elementally, the new plan makes plain that the current tracking for freshmen reinforces racial division and furthers the gaps in academics and discipline that we have long ineffectively wrung our hands and callously furrowed our brows over.

Enough of that.

Now the school is stating plainly what many have long argued. The vast majority of our students are capable of more. Through tracking, we have fostered a school-wide, a community-wide culture of low expectations. As a result, our students, largely students of color, have lived down to and suffered from our low expectations.

Laurie Fiorenza, director of student learning, let loose this startling statistic during last week's meeting. Eighty-four percent of the students our system tracked into the less rigorous college prep track have the capacity, according to College Board requirements, of taking honors classes.

So what does the school's new plan accomplish? It will remake the entire freshman curriculum — math excluded, which will continue to be tracked — by 2021 and infuse it with more challenging work for all students. This will allow those freshmen, with support from their families, to prove their ability to do more advanced work, at least in some subject areas, during their final three years of high school. They will, as the high school terms it, "earn honors." It also allows high school teachers and deans to actively know these young people, to assess their ability beyond the limits of standardized tests, with an eye to boosting them into honors. It demands that the high school aggressively surround students — those who will excel in every circumstance and those who need some measure of support — with the tools they need to rise.

This isn't the end of honors and advance placement courses. It is the start of their flowering as the destination for far more students.

We have advice for the handful who complained this has all been sprung on them: Pay attention. Read the news. And listen when Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams says nothing is being sprung, that the plan is being announced two years in advance and will continue to evolve, based on public input.

It was gratifying to see last week the number of white parents, in particular, who see the beauty and the power in this plan. Resources are not being snatched from traditional high achievers. No bars are being lowered. Expectations are rising. Opportunity is expanding. Equity is being expanded.

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Reader Comments

5 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Kevin Peppard  

Posted: October 7th, 2019 10:36 AM

@Jim Frenkel: Try going to this website for some no-nonsense talk about education in D97, D200 & D90: https://www.thee3group.org/

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: October 7th, 2019 10:21 AM

@Christopher, I always look forward to your comments, most of which I agree with. Your comment and @Kevin's observation point out a glaring inconsistency in the WJ's editorial above-- was it truly just a matter of "paying attention" that led to the surprise of many impacted parents and their dismay at how this was rolled out?

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 5th, 2019 10:26 AM

Kevin - I mentioned earlier that many of the well educated African Americans send children to Fenwick etc. and those who send kids to OPRF send them with eyes wide open. Black boys get it from all angles ... low expectations from whites or pressure from others not to be a student as its not cool. The groups that need the most help are not aware of issues/events that impact them - which is why this ironic.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: October 5th, 2019 2:00 AM

Here is an attempt to post a study on the Achievement Gap in area elementary schools. I think I've corrected the hyperlink problem: https://k12economics.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2019 7:35 PM

I've been to two of the roll-out meetings, and intend to go to the last one.. I have a question that no one else has asked: Where were all the Black and Brown faces? There were precious few. These are the families that OPRF is ostensibly trying to help. This effort, so far, has the taint of people thinking they're taking on the "The White Man's Burden", in the patronizing words of Rudyard Kipling. The Black people in my relatively well-off neighborhood are perfectly suited to handle their own concerns. Three such families live to the left, the right, and across the street. The two families who still have school-age children do not and will not use the Oak Park schools, because of the lax, permissive culture there. One of the ladies in the audience who spoke at Roosevelt Middle School last night pointed out that these problems will not be solved without having the parents of the low-performing students on board to use the school's resources, and give help and backup at home,. How will that be accomplished? That is the hard nut to crack, if at all possible. The school , in a sense, must become a substitute family, which can only succeed to a limited extent.

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