A well-supported new direction at OPRF


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John Duffy

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The freshman course restructuring at Oak Park and River Forest High School, combining college prep and honors, is not a dismantling of those things that are best at OPRF. It is an expansion of opportunity for all students to experience the highest quality of classroom learning. This direction and the essential procedures to realize racial equity in learning have been documented in District 200 self-studies since 2003 and in outside research for at least a generation. 


Essential features

D200's systematic evaluation of freshman courses guides the design work now underway. Key emerging ingredients include:

1. collaborative teacher inquiry around equity and professional learning that supports the most challenging learning all students need; 

2. personalized and differentiated learning paths within racially and culturally diverse classrooms that are safe, welcoming and respectful

3. authentic, rigorous, disciplined curriculum with high standards and performance-based assessments; 

4. social-emotional and academic supports for all learners at every level of achievement success, and

5. ongoing quantitative and qualitative evaluation.

Support for freshman re-structuring is also found in the recommendations of reputable national and international organizations calling for more equitable opportunity to learn for all children.


 Inclusive and equitable learning

The National Council of the Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) asserts that traditional tracking in math courses fails to meet the growth needs of students assigned to lower math classes. NCTM stresses that this is especially harmful for students of color or students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Leading math educators call on schools to boldly address "disparities in opportunities that different groups of learners have with respect to access to grade-level (or more advanced) curriculum, teacher expectations for students, and beliefs about their potential for success" (2019).

The National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) statement on the Opportunity to Learn (2019) declares that schools must recognize "the vital role education plays in a democratic society; we believe that students must be granted equitable access to educational settings that build on the strengths of students, expand the capacity of learners … (and) create curriculum inclusive of diverse students and faculty, including curriculum with positive representations of diverse student and faculty populations and accurate information on histories of diverse populations."

The National Research Council of the National Academies (2002) emphasizes in its report on equity in education that the path for expanding to all students the opportunity to take high-status International Baccalaureate and AP programs requires the assurance that all middle- and high-school students enroll in enriched and challenging courses. The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Pew Charitable Trusts reiterated these recommendations in their reports on creating equitable education opportunities (Conley, 2005).

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has made strong recommendations on expanding equity in education for its 36 member nations. The OECD states that "the design of education systems and the pathways through those systems can help or hinder equity. A fair and inclusive system needs to manage the extent of differentiation, by postponing tracking to at least the later teenage years" (2004).

The Civil Rights Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (2010) focuses on racial equity and opportunity to learn. It declares: "The practice of tracking students by perceived ability is a major civil rights obstacle to reaching President Obama's benchmark for the United States to become a global leader in post-secondary education attainment by 2020."


Moving racial equity forward

Today, D200 is thoughtfully moving forward with a curriculum equity quest called for at OPRF High School over 25 years ago. These efforts offer possibilities, though no guarantees, that we can come closer to the day when access to learn the most challenging curriculum will be available to all of our children.

John Duffy, EdD, chairs the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education which collaborates with equity allies in Oak Park and River Forest.

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Reader Comments

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 16th, 2019 11:14 AM

It is not a dismantling of the honors program, they just, disconnected all the pieces. Then slathered "bold" and "thoughtful" around the description of the "quest".

Doug Katz from OAK PARK  

Posted: November 12th, 2019 12:08 PM

So the change is supported by the recommendations from many organizations. I think what concerned parents are looking for is support from data that this change will not detrimentally impact the performance of students who would have been in the honors program prior to the change. Additionally, I believe that they are seeking supporting data that the new curriculum will not hurt student's college aspirations in a fiercely competitive college landscape. Your opinion piece addresses neither. I do not think that anyone would argue with providing greater opportunity to all. I think many are not overly enthusiastic if it is at the expense of their own children. This is understandable and should not be vilified. Based on your well researched opinion, it does not seem that in the years of seeking this elusive equity, there have not been any successful examples of changing to a curriculum as is proposed and/or closing the achievement gap created over the previous eight years by altering a freshman curriculum.

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