Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Wildly Segregated High School to Try Something Radical

Since at least the 1980s, Evanston Township High School—the only (and extremely large) high school serving the suburb directly north of Chicago—has been both incredibly diverse and incredibly two-tracked. There was a lunch cafeteria for white people and a lunch cafeteria for black people—also, to its credit, an (at least somewhat) more integrated cafeteria for the freaks. That is where the smoking courtyard used to be, today's young people may be astounded to hear! Likewise, in classes there's a track for white people and some other non-black people and then a track for pretty much everyone else. Summer school classes, for instance? Nearly entirely black. Now, the school's superintendent wants to try to cut this problem off at the root, by not sorting incoming ninth-graders into tracks via testing, and not having all-white honors English classes for freshman. Just like Cathie Black, I'm not an education professional, so I'm not qualified to comment on whether this is a solution or a maybe terrible idea! But something has to happen. For decades now, hundreds, probably thousands, of high schools just like this across the United States have actively tracked black students to not succeed, to not go to college and to not achieve success. Someone needs to shake it up somehow.

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soco (#8,225)

The high school I went to was largely Hispanic, but the honors track was almost all white. It became kind of a joke that the lowest track was ESL Math, ESL History, and so on, but that was just the truth of how the tracks were split up.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

Same for my 60/40-black/white HS in northern NJ. There is a constant static of outcry about this but nothing is ever done to address it. Pretty despicable.

keisertroll (#1,117)

My high school's honors track was about 70 percent douche.

Tracking is an unfair solution, but can we expect schools to make up for socioeconomic disparities so that all students are on an equal footing with the resources we're willing to give them? Everybody wants the easiest possible solution to education, and people only really care about whether THEIR kids get good opportunities (if they care at all).

Baboleen (#1,430)

I agree with the problem, but not the solution. I worked in an inclusion classroom for many years, and undoubtedly, the pace of learning WILL slow down when you have VERY bright students who learn quickly mixed with students who for a VARIETY of reasons, do not learn quickly.

jaimealyse (#647)

Amen. I went to a mostly-not-white high school with mostly-white honors and AP classes, but ninth grade is too late to start trying to fix this. The gap/range is way too wide by then.

You can't put students reading on a fourth-grade level with students reading on a college level – you have to go back to elementary school, or earlier, to figure out how to not end up there in the first place.

iantenna (#5,160)

while i see both of your arguments i think you're missing one crucial point. high school is, or at least should be, as much about learning how to interact with a diverse group of people as it is about book learning.

Baboleen (#1,430)

I see your point as well, however, I expect that my son/daughter should leave high school with the ability to speak and write in a manner that will either get him or her into college or a trade. Included in that diverse group of people they are able to interact with, should be intelligent people.

iantenna (#5,160)

but should it only be "intelligent" people? are you opposed to inclusion programs? is the presumed benefit of your child being in a exclusive, tracked class greater than the benefit a less advanced child gets from being included? i'm not saying these are easy questions or that i know the answers but your statement that it's somebody else's problem (i.e. elementary schools, parents, etc.) just sounds like buck passing to me. inclusion programs help the special needs student, no matter what age they start. i would argue that the "intelligent" student can succeed in a needs-diverse classroom a lot more easily than the special needs student can in a segregated one.

Baboleen (#1,430)

I worked in an inclusion classroom for many years and it was my experience that yes, students with learning disabilities do better in some areas, when they are learning with students who are at grade level. They tend to be humiliated when paired with students who master a subject much sooner and in different ways than they do. They can't keep up, get anxious, and spiral into a place where they can't learn at all. That is when the entire class may pay the price (with disruptions.) I'm not imagining this scenario, it happened enough that something had to be done (at the student's expense.) Invariably, when I was working in an inclusion classroom, there would be at least one student, who, along with a learning disability, would have a behavioral problem as well. I am telling you, when pressured to keep up with a faster-paced environment than they could handle, they would act out.

jaimealyse (#647)

@iantenna I interacted with a very diverse group of people in high school, in clubs, activities, and just around the place. And my classes were diverse, too.

I'm not trying to pass the buck to elementary schools or parents – I think that those are the root of the problem. Inclusive classrooms in high school – *if the disparities aren't addressed way before ninth grade* – don't solve anything and add to the problems.

iantenna (#5,160)

i have experience in inclusion classrooms as well and my wife has run a public middle school inclusion program for 5 years now, with great success. i don't disagree that inclusion can be difficult and problematic but i think the alternative is always worse. what do an autistic kid, a mentally retarded kid, an adhd kid and a ed kid have in common? not much, but that doesn't stop them from often being treated the same in the same classroom. and that just doesn't work. you're treating the needs and benefits of more "intelligent"/"normal" students as if they're worth more than the more needy and difficult ones, when it should be exactly the opposite, in my opinion.

But you can't just throw a bunch of kids together and hope for the best. Most special ed classrooms I have come across have the benefit of aides (sometimes one on one), smaller classroom sizes and teachers trained to work with students with special needs. I had one class ONE class on kids with special needs in my entire masters program.

As for racial diversity… I went to a shitty high school on the opposite side of town from Choire. My honors classes were reasonably diverse. Honestly, I would have shot myself if I had to learn about the states of matter in a high school science class. I don't think that the answer is to deliver sub-par education across the board to students with diverse needs and diverse learning backgrounds whether they are high or low on the spectrum.

Also, I would like to add that Evanston is a really fucked up place. It is extremely affluent in some parts and extremely not in other parts. There is an actual street that you cross and you enter into opposite land. Erm, maybe that sentence doesn't make much sense, but the disparity is appalling. As is the disparity between spending per student in some of the nice north shore districts (something around 11-12k if my brain is working right now) and a district like Cicero (around 3-4k I think). It's been a couple years since I looked at the actual numbers. Anyway, that is going to take its toll on kids and their outcomes way before high school. Most of my friends work with low-income students and in addition to much lower pay, they have to shell out a lot of their own money to buy supplies. My friend received 60 bucks to buy supplies for her entire class for the entire year. That bought some paper. The rest she had to buy herself. Whenever people say that they care about education in this country I want to puke because they usually only mean for themselves and their own children.

iantenna (#5,160)

"But you can't just throw a bunch of kids together and hope for the best."

clearly, that's a bad move, but that's also a pretty unfair characterization of an inclusion program. i can't speak for all inclusion programs, everywhere, but at my wife's school there is a one-on-one aide in class and she's also developed a successful peer-tutoring program that really engages the students with their special needs classmates. done correctly, with a minimization of behavioral distractions, inclusion can work for all parties involved. a sdc class, and tracked classrooms, on the other hand, just leads to increased polarization.

mouth almighty (#8,116)

These anecdotes are so interesting to me because I guess I just had particularly successful inclusion classroom teachers or something? I was an advanced student and it was only in the segregated classrooms that I felt I was getting fucked over educationally because it was only in those classrooms that entire lesson plans were hi-jacked by students just for the hell of it. Seriously, the disruption was so terrible in those classes because, duh, "advanced" intellectually doesn't negate behavior problems, particularly in areas that serve largely poor and working-class communities of color. The inclusion classrooms I was in, on the other hand, had teachers who knew how to deftly work around a smart kid with a smartass mouth.

…though, also, maybe it was just that I did not live in Evanston, which, yeah sounds pretty fucked up.

Baboleen (#1,430)

Mouth (love the name)- I was one of two aides in an inclusion classroom, located in a low-income, largely minority populated area, where during some years there were students very advanced in some areas, but stuggling in others. Some years felt more successful than others. Some years would feel unsuccessful overall, but out of them would come some individual success stories. And don't get me started on standardized testing!!

mouth almighty (#8,116)

@Baboleen: But do the feelings of success on the part of the teachers/aides matter in a situation like this? Like… isn't it more important if the students feel successful? (Honest question.) I sometimes think that when it comes to education reform too many people want what's easiest but not necessarily what's right. There is so much not being addressed when we okay the segregation of classrooms based on intelligence alone, for instance, that it kind of makes me nauseous just thinking about it!

(Standardized testing, since you bring it up, is another one of those instances where I think this sort of thing applies: we're not really thinking of certain communities when we implement it, are we?)

hockeymom (#143)

Hmmmm. My honors classes were mostly Asian-American, with a few white kids thrown in for laffs.

hockeymom (#143)

I should also point out, those were pretty much the two choices of kids at our school. Plus one Jewish kid. Also in honors. Not really a race, but exotic at the time.

mathnet (#27)

I just want to hear more about Choire in high school.

Ha! HBO will never get a better development idea than "Choire in High School." Someone please work on this.

ericdeamer (#945)

Going to college doesn't equal success. It was certainly the stupidest, most expensive thing I ever did and hasn't helped me a bit.

Baboleen (#1,430)

I agree with you, Eric. It is not the cookie-cutter solution to success that students think it is. It MAY be one piece of a puzzle. What it is though, is a way to import foreign dollars into the states (considering foreign trade is, for the most part, one way these days.)

David (#192)

Chalk it up for one brave sole trying to bring real reform to one school in this great country. Now watch for the news of the new charter school that will open very nearby as a result of his having provided sufficient incentive.

AuntGladys (#6,979)

In my experience as a teacher and in the non-profit ed world, I think this is a highly problematic solution. What's going to happen inside those "integrated" classrooms is a total bifurcation of the teachers' efforts. They will be teaching the lower-level group for most of the time, and struggling to keep their higher-level students engaged in the meantime (and their learning will be slowed as a result). What small gains might be made for the lower-achieving students comes at the cost of holding the higher-achieving students back. What really needs to happen, as jamiealyse suggested, is a systematic raising of standards for black students in elementary and middle schools––particularly at the middle school level, because we know that this is when most kids start to fall off the wagon educationally. It's admirable that Evanston Township HS wants to address the problem, but high school is too late to make up for the huge achievement gap.

I'll add that I happen to know a teacher at ETHS who has already had an honors class folded into her non-honors section. Her opinion is that this has not been a successful model.

Baboleen (#1,430)

The standards of students have to be raised at the onset of their education when their study habits are formed. In addition, the parents of those students MUST get the point, that they hold at least 50% of the responsibilty for their children's success rate in school.

mouth almighty (#8,116)

Man, I remember going on a college "tour" in high school and at one of the colleges, the tour leaders actually said to our not-majority-white faces, "WOW! You guys are the honor students?! And you go to a PUBLIC SCHOOL? How'd that happen?" It was one of those soul-crushing moments but it also left us feeling incredibly smug as hell. I dunno. My addition to this conversation is basically high school sucks, fuck tracking. Ha.

Jeff Barea (#4,298)

Hrm. I was at the top of my classes, Honors classes even. Yet I was tracked because of my attitude towards authority. I know right, no fucking idea where those cocksuckers got that idea.

20 years of college education later and they can all suck it!

Already picked out my next two colleges. They'll accept me. They always do. Never been rejected.

This post is where we talk about ourselves right? Not like any of you 4 year college types have the mental capacity to understand anything I write.

From reading all the comments I realized something is going over most peoples heads here. The majority of ya'll are talking about 'low level kids' in the class with 'high level kids' — am I expected to believe that ALL incoming students who tested low who are african-american are low level students, and ALL incoming students who tested high were caucasian? Now, I don't care what school system you are in, what part of the world or alternate universe — there is going to be a healthy group of students who are smart and do not test well, or just don't care because of their outlook on education.

The issue here is the acceptance of the system from the administration. If they were to actively engage their students and find out the "why this is", I am sure you would uncover some highly intelligent students, just hiding. The solution is not full inclusion, it is unveiling the classicism and ethnic prejudices to see your students as they are.

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