The District 202 Board of Education heard Monday a proposal from Superintendent Eric Witherspoon for instituting its earned honors concept for freshman biology next year at Evanston Township High School.
But it encountered resistance from two first-term board members who were elected after last year’s encounter with freshman humanities.

The District 202 Board of Education heard Monday a proposal from Superintendent Eric Witherspoon for instituting its earned honors concept for freshman biology next year at Evanston Township High School.
But it encountered resistance from two first-term board members who were elected after last year’s encounter with freshman humanities.

The new board members, R. Scott Rochelle and Jonathan Baum, joined by Deborah Graham, questioned the propriety of moving on biology before the board receives hard data on the school’s experience with earned-honors humanities.

In fact, Baum, a former District 65 board member, was a consistent critic of the proposal during public comments last year when the board considered the changes to the humanities curriculum.
 

Whether the newcomers have the votes to stall the biology proposal is as yet uncertain, as the administration considers the humanities program to be a resounding success, based upon anecdotal data, and most of the current board voted in favor of the earned honors humanities program last year.
 

The most outspoken member in favor of the proposal at Monday’s meeting was Martha Burns, who contended that little harm would be done from instituting the changes now, rather than waiting for the data to come in.
 

Her comments were echoed by Witherspoon, who said that in education, curriculum changes need to be implemented before they can be evaluated, and he promised that the administration would be diligent in tracking the results.
 

The earned-honors concept involves putting all freshmen, except for those who are not reading at grade level, in the same class, rather than tracking them into regular or honors based upon their scores on tests taken in the eighth grade. But only those students who perform at an honors level are eligible to receive honors credit.

The theory in favor of the earned-honors concept is that students who failed for one reason or another to score high on the eighth-grade test would not be tracked out of honors for their entire high school years. Those who exhibit the ability, and the determination, to excel are given the opportunity to do so in their freshman year.

But it works the other way as well, in that students who might otherwise have been placed into the class as honors students must nevertheless work diligently at their studies in order to receive honors credit.

Board member Rachel Hayman suggested that  parents of some students who did well in eighth grade would prefer to have their students enter the high school as honors students so that their grades are automatically increased slightly in determining their grade point average.
 

Many parents who objected to the change in the humanities program last year, however, had expressed the fear that the curriculum in an earned-honors class may be “dumbed down” in order to accommodate less scholarly students in the class.
 

By the same token, parents of students who would normally be placed into the class as “regular” students fear that their students would have little opportunity to earn honors credit during their remaining years in high school.
 

The move to earned honors has a racial aspect as well, as few of the black students coming into the high school traditionally qualify for honors classes. As a result, all-honors classes have tended in the past to be comprised almost entirely of white students.
 

No action was taken at Monday’s meeting. Board President Mark Metz indicated that the Board normally discusses such matters at one or more meetings before voting at a subsequent meeting.
 

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *