Consequences of messing with OPRF curriculum

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I have lived in Oak Park for 21 years. I love the community and have lived here longer than anywhere else in my life. Additionally, I am and have been in the real estate lending industry for roughly 20 years. The reality not being addressed with the OPRF freshman curriculum change is that this will impact real estate choices prospective buyers make. 

Schools and the school system's impact on a child's future is a major decision point along with taxes, safety and amenities/lifestyle. We pay immensely high taxes in Oak Park and, to some degree, live with crime issues less prevalent in other suburbs, but people still move here. This can be attributed to certain amenities that Oak Park provides, but it is definitely anchored by the schools. 

This curriculum change represents a possible blow to this all-important aspect of a buyer's decision process. Many people are open to new things, but most people will not gamble with their children's future. They will make decisions based on the best opportunity to give their children a better life. Whether a perceived or actual difference, they will avoid uncertainty, especially when they would have to pay a premium to get it, i.e. exorbitant taxes. 

It is my assertion that you will see two things as a result of this. First, you will see a decrease in people choosing to move to Oak Park and River Forest. There are plenty of other suburbs with nearly the same amenities and geographical proximity that will meet their needs without a perceived disadvantage for their kids. Secondly, you will see current residents evaluating and making decisions regarding whether or not to stay in Oak Park and River Forest based on the aforementioned criteria as their children near ninth grade. 

I would be disingenuous if the thought had not occurred to me to synthesize an exit strategy and transition plan as my own children reach a point of no return where moving would be overly disruptive. This may sound irrational, selfish, alarmist, et al, but the reality is that I do not want to explain to my child that I could have made a choice that would have improved their chances to attend a certain college when and if they do not get in. I do not think that I am alone.

Doug Katz

Oak Park

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Reader Comments

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Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 11th, 2019 12:31 PM

The way I frame the implication of all this is unless something radical happens at D97, this program will largely impact students on the margin (top 10% of college prep and bottom 10% of honors). For those students most will experience big change - for top of college prep they will be enabled supported and for bottom of honors they will drop as others rise. For those solidly in honors wont make a difference as parents will ensure they stay there and for bottom 1/3 there are structural etc issues which will make it unable to move. Given this is going to happen ... The most important question you need to ask as a parent is where does your child on that spectrum ... and how do you prepare them to move up or avoid moving down ....

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 11th, 2019 12:13 PM

@ Mikhail. Good points but it is not arrogance it is tone deathness or crazy like a fox. They know it is better to ask for forgivemness as they would not likely get permission. ...Tone deathness is OP is resting on former glory... when I moved in 2005, OP primary schools were ranked top in state - now they are not. Same for OPRF 20 years ago . It is not surprise that anyone who disagrees is called racist/ pushed out the bubble. This is the single largest shift in OP culture since my parents moved to OP in 70's. Their generation help put OP brand on the map and now any dissent is met with disdain and people branded as bad/lesser/than etc. Not just on this issue but in many areas of OP. As the parent of student (13 AP classes, just started Ivy LEague). I think that this is not a zero sum game - in other words if your kids gets smarter, my kid has less opportunity. The other reality is to perform at AP level it takes work ethic (4/5 hours of homework daily), grit and smarts. Those things wont change ... This is all assuming that the strategy and execution are done well.

Mikhail Ivanov  

Posted: October 11th, 2019 7:22 AM

@Christopher Bell, I appreciate your perspective and agree that this program needs to work for the benefit of the community. That said, why would administration put together a plan that is unproven to "narrow the gap" and destined to be unpopular with OP/RF homeowners? They will accuse everyone who doesn't buy in of being racist, which may be true, but won't matter as we fulfill our parental obligation to provide first for our children. The arrogance of the OPRFHS administration is stunning -- instead of enlisting help, they seem to be chiding any who might have questions or disagree. No thanks. And Elmhurst, Hinsdale, and LaGrange look better and better every day.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: October 10th, 2019 1:10 PM

"If you want to see the poor remain poor, generation after generation, just keep the standards low in their schools and make excuses for their academic shortcomings and personal misbehavior. But please don't congratulate yourself on your compassion." - Thomas Sowell

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 8:18 PM

@ Gregg, I have been clear - successful black send kids elsewhere or we send kids with eyes wide open. This program will 25% of the 45% (or 10% of total) of kids mentioned as ready for honors ... wont impact high achievers much and wont impact low achievers .... that said, we need to rally as decision is made. Call it too important to fail - if this works could vault OP back into top schools in state. When I attended it was TOP 10 in state. IF it fails, it could mark further decline into mediocrity (and flight for parents who want top notch). Either way, we really need this to work

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 8:05 PM

@ Gregg you are correct. Ancedotal information from "friends" - three homes in North OP purchased for $800,000+ cant get $675,000 now. Very simple math - if taxes have gone up $1800 a month in 10 years/ mortgage must go down. ... stagnant wages etc. Cost of schools is the major driver and quality of schools is the major attraction. All the more reason we need to rally the troops to make this successful. If it fails, increased spend, lower values etc mean everyone is screwed...

Gregg Kuenster from Certified Public Accountant  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 6:50 PM

The schools and the municipalities need to encourage the purchase and possible uses of the larger homes by the financially able or the values and conditions of the high end homes will continue to collapse and we as a community will be poorer. Could poorer be another word for Equity? GK CPA.

Gregg Kuenster from River Forest  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 6:42 PM

Real estate prices over 500,000 dollars have already started collapsing in Oak Park and River Forest. Mr. Friedman is correct. The higher the home value ? the greater the ratio of collapse. There are expensive homes in River Forest that just won't sell at half the recent value. Drive around town. Look at the for sale signs. Mortgages are at 3 percent supporting home prices. The economy is good. School risk could be part of the reason for the real estate price decrease. Tax burden and investment risk also come into play. Everyone wants to beat up the rich. The rich do not feel welcome by the local governmental bureaucracies drowning in debt service. The towns and schools are taking on more debt. Real estate taxes are going much higher for all. The rich home owners are not shown any deference by the towns and schools for their sacrifice in tax payment, maintenance cost and investment risk. The public schools administrators are no longer academics. Academics are motivated by competition, innovation and excellence. The current administrators are motivated by political correctness. Equity. Social equity (mixing the poor with the rich) does not reward the students that excel. The whole school system is being pushed into blissful mediocracy. No one is willing to admit ? students that enter high school with limited skills will never catch up. These students are living in a social environment with different norms and social habits. Can we get the poor students to desire the skills, habits and goals of the rich and successful? If we cannot change the social habits of the socially poor, they will fail academically. Mr. Bell is correct. The die is cast. Many parents are giving their children a better academic opportunity by sending them away from OPRF High School. Ms. Francis will putting a student next to a student who performs better cause the student to take up better study habits?

Mikhail Ivanov  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 5:20 PM

There's a very basic social contract in place in Oak Park: It's a good community, with good schools, and all are welcome to live here and enjoy them. It's why so many of us call this village home and raise our children here. I agree with Mr. Katz that the new curriculum is an experiment that may very well alter this basic social contract: remove "good schools" from the formula, and many will make other choices. The current "equity" plan is untested, and doesn't seem to address the concerns about behavior that have been raised. There is absolutely no data that shows that this will in any way reduce the "Opportunity Gap." OPRF Administration is risking the school, the community, and the investment we have all made in our homes this Village with no regard to consequences or a plan with proven outcomes. When OPRF looks more like Proviso West, it will be more inclusive and equitable but for all of the wrong reasons. Choose carefully.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 3:56 PM

Recently tried to sell home in OP and feedback was two fold. A. taxes are too high for most middle class families (with tax/mortgage etc) looking at $6-7000 per month and if 28% rule that means income of at least $240,000 per year and 2). OP schools are not as good as they have been historically - people wont pay premium ( Like I did 14 years ago).

Christopher Bell  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 3:48 PM

Disagree with the rationale of argument but not result. The property taxes are the primary reason OP property values are in trouble. Few homes in north OP are selling due to the $26-30k a year in taxes. Wealthy people have always sent kids elsewhere - know many affluent black families that sent kids to Fenwick (surgeons etc.). What will impact property taxes is increased spend on schools and the 8-10% bump in students moving into OP with new apartments. Equity will actually draw more middle class families of color looking for strong education ...

Linda Francis  

Posted: October 9th, 2019 2:25 PM

The argument is very similar to those made in OP regarding housing in the 60's. It was alarmist then and it is alarmist now. The data overlap between college prep and honors students is significant and shows that many more students can and should handle a more standardized rigorous curriculum. With 45% of students currently taking honors and the heavy use of private tutoring to support it, it is clear that they are ALL not the absolute brightest; but they do have access. The change may mean that your student is sitting next to someone who performs better or may need additional support, albeit school-based and not private. This is actually not much different then what is currently happening. The main difference may be that that student doesn't look like them. I strongly urge people, particularly realtors who have traditionally played a big role in fanning these flames, to collect all of the information before promoting white flight.

Eric Friedman from Oak Park  

Posted: October 8th, 2019 8:34 PM

This letter makes a great point, though it is not complete. The changes to the OPRF curriculum will have the strongest effect on property values for the most expensive homes, because the people who own (or might purchase) expensive homes have the greatest ability to choose a different location with schools they find more attractive. What happens to property taxes when the pricy homes disproportionately decline in value? They get shifted to the other residents. Even renters are affected by property taxes, as their landlords may try to recoup them with higher rent. Ultimately, the lower and middle income residents of Oak Park and River Forest will be picking up a bigger piece of the tax burden.

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