Letter: Fewer Class Options Means Students Are Not Served
A critique of Jack Dale's approach to honors courses
Fairfax County School Board Member Dan Storck and Superintendent Jack Dale recently faced questions from concerned parents about Dr. Dale’s plan to continue to drive Fairfax County High School curricula to two levels of learning: general education classes and advanced placement (college-level) or honors.
Dr. Dale’s logic for eliminating Honors courses when there is an Advanced Placement alternative is two-fold: first, studies of multi-track systems show the bottom cadre can get disadvantaged; and second, Honors is/will not be needed because Fairfax County plans to raise the General Education course to college-prep status.
Let’s take each point in turn. First, just because multi-level levels of learning can disadvantage the bottom cadre doesn’t mean it must. That bottom cadre – like all things human - is responsive to attention. In addition, if self-interest was not enough, State and federal educational mandates (SOLs; No Child Left Behind incentivize administrators to not ignore the bottom.
Second, students learn at their own pace, have their own interests and proclivities and shouldn’t be squeezed into two shoe boxes of instruction. In the current push for a two-tier academic system, some high achieving Honors students would be forced down into Gen Ed or up into AP – one level set too low to be challenging and one level set too high for their ability and interest and where failure is a reality. We’re swapping fear of failure of the bottom to certain failure for many in the top tier; what sense does that make?
Third, Dr. Dale envisions a world where the General Education tier morphs into a college-prep course; although he is quick to note that ‘we’re not there yet.’ So why eliminate Honors today on the supposition that Gen Ed will someday be a college-prep course? Why not wait until Gen Ed is, in fact, college-prep level and see if eliminating Honors makes sense at that time? To his credit, Dr. Dale left the door open saying he would consider keeping Honors until Gen Ed can rise to college-prep level.
Fourth, in Dr. Dale’s future world where Gen Ed is college-prep and the only other option is AP, there is no option for the non-college bound. Those kids are forced like square pegs into round holes to take either college-level (AP) or college-prep (Gen Ed) courses. Why is that? What’s wrong with a vocational course or even a separate high school for the non-college bound? This just begs for another tier of learning.
Finally, sending our kids to college while they’re still in high school is an easy if misguided strategy. If we want high school sophomores and juniors to go to college, let them apply for early entry to the college of their choice. The Dale two-tier – Gen Ed & AP - strategy confuses objective with strategy. Of course, we want to challenge our students. But, instead of challenging with organically-developed upper level curriculum, we jump two steps ahead and buy the College Board paradigm of teaching college level courses in high school.
I oppose the Dr. Dale plan to eliminate Honors courses in Fairfax County Public Schools – now and later, because it reduces options for the succeeding 90% in favor of catering to the bottom when other options are available to solve that issue.
Barry Meuse is the grandfather of a West Potomac student.
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