While parents may have been divided on the merits of doing away with a straight Honors Humanities class at Evanston Township High School, the Board was not.

By a vote of 8-0, including all seven elected members plus the student representative, the Evanston/Skokie District 202 Board of Education late Monday night voted to restructure the 1 Humanities experience.

Under the new program, beginning next school year, all freshmen who have the requisite reading skills for high school work will have the opportunity to earn Honors credit in the class that combines history and English into a unified curriculum. Those not proficient in reading will be assigned to a class called 1 Humanities with Support.

This will replace the present program, which includes both a straight Honors class as well as a mixed class with both regular and Honors students.

When the changes were first proposed on Nov. 8 by Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, it was perceived by many parents as a “dumbing down” of the academic experience at the high school.

More than 100 persons showed up at that board meeting, many of whom denounced the program on those grounds. The superintendent vigorously defended the proposed changes, asserting that the program would do just the opposite and would position the school as a leader in the high school academic world.

Instead of lowering the academic rigor of the program, he declared, it would actually subject all but a few students who have reading difficulties to the same curriculum as that currently provided in the straight Honors classes.

“This recommendation,” he insisted, “is designed to create a school where many more students attain higher academic achievement, to improve learning for all students, to raise the academic ranking of ETHS, and to increase the prestige of ETHS when colleges, universities, and employers are considering our students and their credentials. This recommendation is designed to greatly benefit all ETHS students and benefit our community for generations to come.”

From the beginning, the proposal took on a racial tinge. Virtually every African-American parent, teacher, student, and administrator who offered their opinions during the public comment at Board meetings spoke in favor of the changes, with many telling stories of their own personal battles with discrimination in the classroom.

This came as a surprise to many white parents who argued that one’s race or ethnicity was irrelevant and should not be a factor in assigning students to Honors and Advance Placement classes. In the end, the argument that prevailed was the assumption that students in a diverse classroom would come out of the experience better prepared to succeed in an increasingly global and multi-cultural society.

When the Board met Monday night, it was the fourth and last meeting devoted primarily to this one issue, and the time to cast their individual votes was at hand.

One by one the seven elected officials plus the student representative on the Board delivered their opinions, most of which had been scripted in advance.

Board President Rachel Hayman first called on 20-year veteran Board member Jane Colleton, who said her four children had graduated from ETHS after taking Honors and Advance Placement courses. She described the proposal as inclusive, promising, thoughtful, modest, and advantageous to all. “I think this is a proposal whose time is now,” she said. “Let us be bold.”

Next, Mark Metz said he had given the issue a thorough hearing, having read every letter and email, listened intently to every comment, and took every telephone call. “I’ve done my homework,” he said. Declaring that the administrators and teachers are ready, he cautioned that, while he favored the proposal, he was against celebrating “until more students are achieving at higher levels.”

Student Board representative Joel Michael-Schwartz said he was skeptical at first, but now believes that the plan “has the potential to do great things.” He said he thought it would “alter the classroom dynamic” and he called on the Board to involve students in the planning and evaluating process.

Deborah Graham admitted that the issue has resulted in “a number of sleepless nights” for her and that she was primarily interested in maintaining or increasing the academic rigor of the program. An ETHS graduate who went on to Harvard, she said that she does not believe that one must be surrounded by Honors students in order to be academically challenged. “Students are challenged more when exposed to divergent views,” she said, and averred that they should emerge better prepared to function in “a world that is increasingly global and multi-dimensional.”

Gretchen Livingston thanked the many people who had expressed their views and said she believes the curriculum under the new plan will be significantly improved with greater rigor.

Mary Wilkerson noted that her daughter, an African-American ETHS graduate, recently achieved the distinction of becoming “a board-certified pediatrician.” She said the issue is not one about race, but rather it is about equal access. “If any school can be successful,” she said, “it is ETHS. We should move ahead with all deliberate speed.”

Martha Burns, noting that “this team of Board members really struggled with this issue,” said she feels that the restructuring proposal “creates pathways for all students to achieve.”

And finally, Rachel Hayman expressed her appreciation for the passionate involvement of the Evanston community in helping the Board to understand the many complexities of the issue. She said “the approach we took in the past did not work for a large number of students. I support the proposal.”

Next year the Board is scheduled to consider a similar proposal for restructuring the freshman biology program for the 2012-2013 school year.

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...

Join the Conversation


  1. What a boon for the area catholic high schools

    What  a boon for the area Catholic high schools. I suspect when more non-whites are not in AP or passing the AP tests, the board, in its infinite wisdom, will lower the bar there too.

    Does not bode well for ETHS with its "prestige" with college admission offices, one of the purported goals. 

    1. Au contraire

      Top colleges want students who are more well-rounded. It’s one of the reasons that our students have been admitted successfully to elite schools.
      When asked what they thought of our freshman humanities proposal, the admissions office from WilliamsCollege wrote, “This should not have any negative impact on admission to highly selective colleges. Any change that opens more opportunities is a good thing.”
      Amherst says, “It is ludicrous to think that a 9th grade class would have a major impact on an admissions decision at Amherst. One of the things that would benefit all ETHS students would be for colleges to see that we are truly helping students build diversity capital in their classrooms, not just in the hallways, as this is one of the things that will be looked at by admissions officers in the future.”
      The "boon" comment is another example of the hysterical fear-mongering that has pervaded these comments.
      The revised curriculum will be more rigorous, testing will be more rigorous, teachers are getting more training and more supervision. Once we get over the fear-mongering, Evanston looks to be an even better place to send your children to school!


  2. Bound to put us further behind

      While there are exceptions [a few colleges, dedicated students] many say that even US undergrad colleges are basically the level of British/German/Russian high schools.   Ask parents who moved here and children go to our middle and high schools.  They will tell you how bored their children are by the level of their education.  Hopefully they stick with it so they can go to a good college where the courses will still not be up to internation level, they can, if dedicated, find the extra help from professors. 

      It is known that US graduate schools are the best in the world, but not the colleges by any means.  Yes there are good undergrad programs and very good students, but if you see programs in music, journalism, hotel management, drama, gender studies, etc., you can pretty much bet the general student level is sub-par—hopefully the dedicated students can still get a good education rather than PC course requirements.

    For an example, the Cambridge undergraduate Math program


  3. It’s time to stand up and vote out all D202 board members!

    More than 440 parents signed a petition to oppose D202’s plan to eliminate advanced honors courses for high-achieving students yet EVERY Board member ignored the pleas. This was done despite waiting for the results of a three year evaluation of a mixed-levels humanitiess initiative started in 2008.

    Everyone I have talked to, including Northwestern professors, some of whom signed the petition, are now planning to move their kids out of Evanston public schools. We are strongly considering the same.

    Two things will happen now.

    1) Parents will accept this politically correct, divisive and unproven intiative that punishes high-achieving students because of their race and decide to move their kids out of Evanston schools


    2) Parents and the community can take advantage of this injustice and rally an organized effort to vote out ALL the school board members, fire Witherspoon and his staff and reinstate the advanced courses. This is the time to do it. The best place to start is with those who signed the petition.


    A third option would be to file a discrimination lawsuit against D202.

    It’s unbelievable that D202 Board member Deborah Graham whose kids benefitted from ETHS advanced courses and who opposed the 2008 initiative to expand mixed-level classes in part out of concern for the high ratio of regular to honors-level students now says it’s OK to eliminate advanced courses for the top students. What does she care – her kids won’t be affected. What a hypocrite!

    Even Student board member Joel Michael-Schwartz said the plan had "the potential to be a total catastrophe," and he felt that student voices had been neglected in the debate.

    This D202 policy is based on racial quotas. Not enough minorities scored high enough on the achievement test to qualify for advanced courses so the board and Witherspoon end it. Instead, students who score at least in the 40th percentile on the achievement test (below the median) now can take on honors level courses. It gives new meaning to the concept – honors.

    And now the Evanston public school system has become a laughingstock, and some potential homebuyers indicated they will skip Evanston. The change in the freshmen honors program could have an unintended consequence – further decline of Evanston property values.

    There is still time to apply to run for the D202 or D65 School Board. The deadline to apply is Dec. 20.

    Take back our schools and our community!! Vote them ALL out!

    1. 440 parents!? That’s not as

      440 parents!? That’s not as many as you think.

      Who passes around petitions that say this is a good idea and we support it? By definition, that’s not a petition, because it doesn’t ask for change.

      I’m certainly glad an elected board wouldn’t change policy on a petition circulated around town on an issue that everyone was well aware of for only a possible maximum percentage (assuming no spouses signed the petition, and that there are no siblings in the enrollment of 2,890 which are both wrong, but oh well) of 15%

      I certainly appreciate that you’re as passionate on the topic of ETHS reform as I am, but I’d hope you would start considering that there are few arguments without merit in this debate and we don’t need a "Vote the bums out!" mentality to go over an issue in depth. What we need is an educated debate, not some TeaPartyExpress style outrage.

      1. 440 more parents signed the petition than the supporters

        Ah hello Christian.

        The D202 did CHANGE a policy because there were too many "white" kids in the honors courses. So yes, supporters could have passed around a petition to support the new policy. But they didn’t because most parents know it’s wrong and dumbing down education at ETHS where taxpayers foot $20,000 each year for every student.. 

        How many parents passed around a petition to support the new policy that now allows every kid that scores above the 40th percentile on achievement tests to take on high-level academics? 

        Answer=ZERO! There was no real debate – this was rammed through.

        Yes, Vote the bums out! Then fire Witherspoon! 

        1. Innovation isn’t created through petitions!


          The reason that administrators are hired is to make ETHS the best it can possibly be. The only responsibility of the administrators is to enact petition-based changes and come up with nothing on their own? You must be kidding. Parents who support this change WILL NOT create a petition, they will happily accept this change and ignore all of the yelling that we’re engaging in. And as for parents who ask for this change before the board, do you think that if your petition of 440 names (which is not many, please understand that) did not gain traction that any other petition should? On principle, what exactly do you see as the role of a minority petition? What happened to creating relationships with your elected officials instead of shoving pieces of paper under their nose only when you get upset with something you don’t fully understand?

          Like you said, ETHS is an expensive education. It should be on the cutting edge at all times. The elected members of the board obviously had their debate and are happy with the results, because they voted unanimously to approve this change. OUR debate as citizens can’t continue to be behind the times: there was plenty of notice that this was going to change before these late November/early December meetings.

          We can agree on the point that ETHS administrators could have given much more public awareness to the depths and specifics of this project, but that isn’t a debate on the merits of the initiative. This is a great initiative, whether you can see that at this time or not. I’m proud that ETHS is taking this step towards shifting public education paradigms.

          "Voting the bums out" isn’t even a viable solution, considering there are seven board members and only three incumbents eligible to take seats from and the deadline for petitions is Monday at 5:00 PM. Your anger is not responsible enough to solve any perceived problem. I think that solution is a non sequitur from your issue.

      2. Correction re: Petition

        I should point out that the petition did not say "Don’t support this proposal," it merely asked the Board to wait a year before eliminating straight honors to complete the 3-year evaluation it committed to making 2 years ago. It said nothing about not moving ahead with the new curriculum or earned honors credit model.

        As others have noted, it is about trust and transparency. When the administration told the community that they would evaluated the mixed level classes for three years, they implied that no other changes would be made to Freshman Humanities during that time. They certainly said at the time that they had no intention of eliminating the honors track. 

        443 signatures on a petition may not be a lot in the grand scheme of things but it certainly indicates a significant number of individuals in the community have concerns. The administration and the board did not address those concerns, they dismissed them.

        I asked the Board to compromise and consider only the new curriculum and the earned honors credit model. If you want to read my remarks, they are here.

        1. Okay

          Ms. Wallis,

          Where can we find the text of the petition? I guess it was misrepresented to me in a similar fashion as the earned honors initiative has been misrepresented to many of the people around this debate.

          Up to this point of reading your post, I was under the impression that the petition was attempting to get ETHS to delay the implementation of this program for a year to finish their 3 year evaluation cycle, because while the first two years of the evaluation data were favorable to the initiative, the third year might not be so favorable. In this sense, the people who want to wait for the full evaluation DO want to stop the initiative, and use the third year of the data as the crux of their argument.

          I understand the need for full evaluations, and I am disappointed in the thought that the high school would commission a study and then pull out two-thirds of the way through. They may be playing politics with their numbers, but it seems like the people in opposition to the initiative are playing with the numbers as well. I don’t think either side is well served with a study that can’t possibly capture the complexity of this new initiative without taking into account multiple generations of ETHS students, as well as accounting for teacher turnover, curricula improvements, changing socioeconomic demographics of the student body, etc. 

          I also am upset that the administration has not handled this initiative well with the community. However, I’m an individual that can separate the faults of the administration in its communication with parents and their ability to create education infrastructure that betters the educational capabilities of the school. I realize as an individual that the school has not correctly described or informed on this initiative, so I am taking it on myself because I love my school and I see the genius that exists in this proposal.

          I also recognize that a debate on how many people signed a petition that talks about continuing the evaluation process is just politics and detracts from the main question, which is what direction should education at ETHS take considering the economic and social opportunities have changed, necessitating a change in the form, substance, and style of education? On that question, I am not convinced that 443 parents/members of the community have got this situation figured out yet. I think they suffered from the district’s lack of information and haven’t been given the real description of this program (which exists on the ETHS website, but very few other places and hasn’t been well disseminated).

          So if there is a copy of the petition on the web somewhere, I would love to see it, and if you have a paper copy, is there a chance we could sit down and you could show me the petition? I would be glad to post it somewhere so people could be better educated on the process as a whole.


          1. Information on the ETHS proposal


            In addition to drafting the petition, the Evanston Education Advocates (a group of concerned parents), also created a web site with information about the current proposal and the history going back to the Mixed Level changes in 2008. I believe that most people who signed the petition also saw the information on our web site. We did not attempt to keep information from anyone. On the contrary, we tried to educate people on the issues surrounding the decision.

            You can find the petition here

            You can see our web site here


    2. Thank You for Posting This!


      It’s time to stand up and vote out all D202 board members!

      Thank you Anonymous Al.  I have been thinking, breathing, saying this as a mantra through the night, while I drive by the high school, all through the day. I can not believe that this superintendent and this School Board were able to pull this off in such an incredibly disrespectful and hasty manner.  The reason?  The current 202 Board is more interested in being liked by the current administration than making intelligent decisions. It’s a terrible day to be a Wildcat!  I have lost sleep over this, and now I find to my total relief that there is one human being out there who agrees with me!  I think the reason this particular 202 Board was able to do this was that they are made up with the richest group of people ever on a school board.  Anyone who actually has to pay the hefty college tuition and realizes what’s at stake in trying to get scholarship dollars understands how lower income and middle class families are killed by this proposal.  Rich families can always move, get tutors, send their kids to private schools, etc.  But we are stuck with this, and Witherspoon should step down.  The Board also…It is a lie that whites are the only ones in freshman honors classes.  A complete lie!  My son was in a program sponsored by Northwestern called LIVE that 65 also helped pay for.  For 3 years in middle school he was prepared to take honor’s classes at the high school.  Almost every one of his friends were put in honor’s humanities classes from this program and this was truly a diverse group from Chute and Nichols, and they are now in AP classes, etc. What a bunch of lies! Talk about letting the Evanston community down.  Thank you Al, I now know there is one person out there who agrees with me. 

  4. schools, the gap and false comparisons

    A couple of FYI’s:

    Readers might be interested in seeing this article from the newspaper Haaretz in Israel, where there is no "gap" issue. Note what it says about students choosing the easy courses. ETHS is telling us that the new Humanities initiative will challenge more students. That doesn’t mean the students will accept the challenge. Motivation is everything.

    In the special 202 board meeting soliciting comments, one of the "experts" mentioned as an example of success YES Prep in Houston (actually 3 schools). If you go to the YES Prep website you will find that it is not comparable to ETHS because

    1) it is open enrollment

    2) parents/student/school must sign a contract concerning student success

    3) the student body is 95% minority. The success of YES Prep should come as no surprise because those students attending and their parents are motivated – they want to be there. Race clearly has nothing to do with it.

    YES Prep says the students and parents as well as the teachers are responsible. ETHS dare not say this and instead lays the entire burden on the teachers, the school and the curriculum.

    If all white students were eliminated from ETHS the problem of low acheivers would remain but high achievers would be black as well. The gap by definition would disappear but the problem of underachieving students would remain. There would no longer be a gap because skin color could not be used as an excuse for variation in acheivement. This is one of the lessons of YES Prep – they don’t waste time on visual impressions, something neither they nor ETHS can do anything about but about which ETHS and District 65 are obsessed.

    The 202 board has just approved more wheel-spinning as a result of never-ending hand-wringing, adding to the 25 years of it done by District 65. It’s motivation, folks, student and parent motivation that are lacking but that are off-limits to discussion. If it were then we’d start hearing "blame the victim!" which nobody at YES Prep would consider for 1 second.

    By the way, if ever there were proof that the two districts should be unified it is Dr. Witherspoon’s refusal to say a word about the performance of the district that delivers the students that go to ETHS. Respecting professional turf is more important to him than the educational standing of the kids he receives.

    1. Reply to “schools, the gap. . .”

      Mr. Brown:

      I agree with and appreciate your assements on the Honor program debate over the following weeks.  I just wanted to add that though Dr. Witherspoon has not blamed District 65 by name, his implication that District 65 is the source of the educational problems at ETHS is crystal clear.  As an example, and there are others, Dr. Witherspoon statement is telling about District 65: "This is a restructure of the freshman experience to lessen the harmful practice of sorting and labeling students before they even enter ETHS. …"

      I believe that the same "expert"  you mentioned also consults with KIPP schools.  KIPP schools are non-union schools that hold teachers accountable for their students progress.  In a KIPP school, failure to improve student performance will get a teacher fired.  This not an option at ETHS, sadly.

  5. District 202 has a PR disaster on its hands

    Witherspoon and the board pushed this through in a ham-handed, insensitive way — and the community will remember. Suspicion and resentment have replaced trust, which cannot be easily regained.

    This was a potentially explosive issue, and there was much to be gained by going slowly and at least paying lip service to the pleas to wait just one more year. Instead, they forced it through in a way that showed complete disdain for the concerns voiced by so many.

    Who now believes Witherspoon and the board when they say they’re not out to dismantle the rest of the honors and AP curriculum? Why should anyone believe them now? It was badly done, and while they may feel they gained a "moral victory," in short order they will realize that they have lost much, much more.

    1. The Board was respectful; they listened to everyone.

      And then they did what boards are elected to do: they made a decision based on all the comments, their diligent research and meetings with the professional staff. This proposal had been in the works for awhile. They decided that waiting would have been negligent. Before this proposal is implemented, there will have been three years of study. They are already using data from the 2.4 years of the current program and will continue to use insights gained.

      It is ludicrous to suggest that anyone has any intentions to "dismantle the rest of the honors and AP curriculum." It is only fear-mongering. I had thought that Evanston was a little above this type of dirty politics.

      ETHS will continue to have extremely high achieving talented students and receive national attention for its programs. The enthusiasm of the teachers and staff for this program is infective. They are happy to be part of such a diverse, progressive, and smart school. So am I.


      1. PR disaster indeed

        Say what you will, but broadly speaking, the perception is that ETHS is "dumbing down" its curriculum. Take a look at the comments on the Tribune article:


        They are almost universally condemnatory.

        I work in marketing and PR, and I can tell you that Witherspoon and the board really flubbed it here. If they didn’t, why is the spin on all the headlines "ETHS eliminates honors humanities course?" Why isn’t it, "ETHS improves rigor for all students"?

        You can blame the media (it’s a popular thing to do), but the district should have taken much, much more responsibility for the messaging around this proposal.

        Here are some representative comments on the Trib story:

        "With one quick vote they just lowered the property values of the entire city of Evanston. What parents would choose to live in Evanston with such an extreme, heavy handed, approach to education."

        "We cannot make the dumb smarter by prohibiting opportunity for the more gifted."

        "Spineless non-attempt to address a problem … Makes you think that moving out of Evanston is the right choice for any family with a child who is achieving above average results in school."

        Ouch, ouch and ouch. Unfortunately, those feelings are shared by many in the Evanston community. 

        Perception relates to trust. Trust is capital, and the board lost a lot of it on Monday.

  6. Okay, let’s sign our names. 

    Okay, let’s sign our names.   This is Joan Kelly.

    I’m guessing that the above comments come from white parents/guardians who may be in the middle class and may be more engaged in the educational process (the comments alone suggest that) and may be able to provide their child more family stability and opportunites outside the classroom.  Blah Blah Blah, you’ve heard this already.

     I went to a Catholic school where there were 30 kids in the classroom and on some days I was really bored.  I also went to Northern Illinois  – last on the list of my kids (and most of their friends), because I was able to give them a choice. 

     Now we need to ask ourselves how to help make this new curriculum work.  Imagine if the 400 parents that signed the petition took on 50 kids to work with.  Let’s be part of the solution.  Count me in. 

    1. Fine, Let’s Do It


      I’m willing to sign my name and I’m willing to pitch in and help. I’ve been on countless D65 committees, the PTA Council, the ETHS PTSA, School Improvement Team and Curriculum Forum. I was on the Board of Invest for 2 years.  I’ve met one-on-one with D202 administrators and board members to talk about changes to all sorts of aspects of the school. I do my bit. I’m willing to do more (although I am not prepared to run for a board seat at this time). 

      What I want to know is why I have to let my kid be bored in high school (after years of boredom and frustration in middle school) because I am "able to provide [my] child more family stability and opportunites outside the classroom." What do I send my kid to school for? Aren’t his needs as important as any other student in the school’s? According to you, and apparently the D202 administration and board, they aren’t.

      I’ve said before in on this site and I’ll say again, the achievement gap is a big problem and not one that can be solved by changing the Freshman Humanities curriculum in D202. What I’d like to see is a community-wide commitment to exploring pragmatic solutions to the problem. ECF has committed to the "Every Child Ready for Kindergarten" program. What can the rest of the community do? Will the NAACP partner with other non-profits and social service agencies to help struggling African American families get the support they need? Will D202 have some genuinely "Courageous Conversations" with members of the community to try to heal the rift that this decision has caused within the community? 

      Joan, you want to volunteer The tutor coordinator at ETHS is Ellen Morgan. I’m sure she’d welcome your help.

      1. Ms. Wallis,
        Respectfully, I’d

        Ms. Wallis,

        Respectfully, I’d like to see a more learned and balanced perspective on this initiative, considering that while ETHS has been pitching the earned honors as a salve for the achievement gap, what it really does better is elimiate honors C+ students.

        I’m a recent graduate of ETHS (C05). I was on the honors track because I have never tested below the 98th percentile in any standardized test. I took AP tests for classes not even offered at the high school. And yet, I was a dumb little fourteen year old kid.

        Any parent who honestly thinks their child will NOT BE BORED in any class at any level of high school is forgetting the overwhelming social stupidity of young people whose brains are undergoing waves of assaults from hormone levels never matched again in their lives. Instead of focusing on groups and improvement, ETHS is making a grand attempt at individualizing education to the standards of each student. It will now be extremely obvious which children deserve honors, and it wasn’t students like myself. Testing well on standardized tests should not determine the level of education you receive.

        In this proposal, the five assessments given on the subject matter occur during the class, so instead of reading two short stories one Saturday morning during 8th grade and getting three years of honors credit and one year of AP credit for the one test, I’ll have to actually read and comprehend the material in order to get my extra .5. If your child isn’t up to that challenge, how do you think they’re actually going to handle a rigorous college system?

        I’m not writing very well due to the time and my emotional involvement in this issue, but I can honestly tell you that your assumptions are false. Education has always been individual between the parents and their child, but for years the schools haven’t mirrored that relationship and it has allowed talent and time to be wasted. This is a massive step towards making the relationship between the school and the child more individual, which in turn can only help the school-parent dynamic that was so difficult to maintain for my peer group’s parents. Think of this as a rebirth of in loco parentis, which is a doctrine that schools should never have deviated from.

        I’m happy to sit with you at the next District meeting if I can, but as an intern I’ve been at the City Council meetings. Maybe we can get together and talk about the initiative over coffee some time.

        1. A real difference in boredom

          Ms. Sorenson,

          There is a real difference between a student who thinks school is boring because they would rather be doing something like hanging out with their friends, and a student who is mindnumbingly BORED because they are not taught at an appropriate academic level.  My 99% sixth grader was barely turning in homework in all of her classes (placing her at a good solid "C") and was described as "completely unengaged" and "will not try".  In seventh grade, when she was placed in Honors Algebra, she became a straight A student.  By her own words, she stated that math was just a lot more interesting.  The bonus was her newfound interest in learning carried over to her other classes.  I am hopeful that she has gotten used to the idea that learning is exciting to carry her through the first year of high school as well.  But that doesn’t mean I think the high school is doing her a service by making sure she learns at the same speed as everyone else.  Nor do I think they are doing great things for the students that need extra help to succeed.  Unfortunately, not everyone learns in the same way, and those differences should be supported by the high school, not hidden.

          FYI, anyone saying that District 65 tracks and labels students too much before they hit high school has apparently not actually sent a child through that school district.  District 65 excels at forcing their teachers to detrack kids and teach them all at the same speed, even going so far as to persecute and threaten teachers who try to track the gifted children.

      2. Ms. Wallis,Respectfully, I’d

        And that goes for everyone else, as well. I would love to have a community forum without the ETHS brass to talk about the issue. I’m not convinced they explained the benefits of this program as well as they could, and I am also convinced I see some merits that few others have mentioned.

        I think my email is in my profile. If you’re passionate about this issue, either side, we should have a larger community conversation without some body of elected officials holding our hands or time limits than we have had.

    2. Joan, why is boredom

      Joan, why is boredom acceptable if there is an option?  i too was bored and I was also challenged. Also, why do you presume that white families taking on 50 kids to "work" with would not be resented? 

  7. Board 202 membership

    While reading with interest all opinions concerning the changes to humanities honors classes at ETHS, I found many passionate and articulate individuals writing their opinions -mostly against, I have to say. Those individuals have devoted their time and own research to read minutes, attend board meetings, write on this, and possible, other forums. This, plus their dedication and passion, makes them ideal candidates for the District 202 board.

    I hope to see some of the names on this forum on the ballots in the upcoming D202 board elections.

  8. One District – voter input


    There are many reasons to consolidate districts.  The only reason I’ve heard against it has to do with unions and salaries.   I can’t imagine in these times we couldn’t find a smart lawyer to make it work.   We also know that most of the Minority Student Achievement Network Schools are k-12., so it’s got to be possible.

    Not only do we need to be able to address the gap fully and vigorously well before 9th grade – but we also need to have a contested school board election at the High School.   We haven’t had one it years.     Maybe this town just isn’t big enough to support  2 school boards.

    This Board hired Dr. Witherspoon.  They gave him his direction.   They have made "transformative" changes to the way ETHS is run – and the only job requirement necessary for the board is the willingness to put themselves on the ballot. 

    The current President started as a write is, so did one other member.   Last years election was uncontested – so was the time before that.   I’m not sure when the last contested election was held. 

    Voting in uncontested races are is often called meaningless since there is no influence on the outcome.  People don’t feel the need to engage in the process, because their vote truly doesn’t matter.

    This board is behaving like they have a mandate.  They don’t.   We need to have a contested race to get interest up and allow voters a choice and a voice in the process.

    Certainly we can scold or cajole citizens to run for school board.   That happens every election as well.  Maybe 14 school board members is more than this community can support.   Maybe it is time to seriously consider, for the sake of the community, for the sake of the children –  one school district that we can support.







  9. Where are the supporters on this page?

    I find it intriguing that the only comments on this page are against the change in humanities. Where are the parents who supported this movement? Are they offering to tutor 50 kids in order to make this disaster successful?

    It looks (according to this site– I have not researched others) like they got their way and went back home, trusting someone else to be the ones in charge of their kids’ educations.

    I went to public school for high school and in the mixed-level classes I got picked on for being smart. People wanted to copy off me, offered to beat me up, and generally intimidated the heck out of me– and please don’t think I was a know-it-all, constantly raising my hand. I wasn’t.

    I learned to never raise my hand, not to make eye contact, and for heaven’s sake don’t do too well on a test. I was bored out of my mind and got lower grades in those classes than in the honors. The teachers were teaching other students stuff I learned in sixth grade.

    Of course the teachers would be desperate for someone, anyone, to be able to answer their questions and they knew that I would probably have the answer, so they would call on me. What would you do? a) pretend you don’t know the answer or b) invite more bullying by answering the question so we could move on to something else?

    In contrast, being smart was expected in the honors classes. People didn’t have bets on who could distract the teacher with the weirdest questions, didn’t make excuses for not doing their homework, didn’t ask questions of stuff we were supposed to already know, and worked in small groups to study together after school. There was peer pressure to get an A.

    People didn’t copy. People raised their hands if they had a question or another viewpoint to contribute. These classes prepared me to go to college. Our home has been on the market for 9 months as we were planning to move into a better elementary school district. I have no idea if my children will be eligible for honors level classes when they reach high school, but we are planning to leave Evanston after this decision. It is the last in a long line of decisions catering to bad parenting and unmotivated students.

    The best way to raise the average performance of the school is to remove the top achievers. Then everyone else floats to the top. I hate to move that because I really wanted my children to have a lot of diversity in their schools,and they are not going to get that if we move north or west. I suppose we can take them into the city and make an effort as parents to include as much diversity in their lives as we can. But I can’t control the other kids or teachers in their classes.

    What is ETHS doing to make sure that the teachers can teach at two levels at once? Is class size shrinking? Are they using different tests? Different assignments? How is the teacher supposed to do this– teach half the class for normal kids and half the class for high achievers? It seems like the grading would be incredibly subjective. The fact is, for students who are in the 40% they cannot possibly be expected to learn at the same speed and with the same techniques that someone at the 99% would.

    I understand higher expectations of students leads to higher achievement, but do you need to dumb down the honors program for that? Why not just change what you are doing in the regular classes and leave the honors program alone. Clearly it is working– it’s the level below that’s broken.

    Thanks for listening to me vent. I’m just angry because I love Evanston so much and I do NOT want to move, but feel like I have no other choice if my kids are going to have any chance of being well adjusted.

    1. We’re here.

      Personally it just doesn’t seem worth repeating the same things (and reading the same complaints) so I’ve moved on.  Homegoods, anyone?!

    2. The Proposal is Available for the Public to Read

      ETHS is not a typical sort of jock/cheerleader American H.S.  Getting picked on for being smart isn’t the norm.  Intellect, critical thought and creativity are prized– always have been.  Many of the "cool" kids are the uber smart and driven ones.

       I was a product of both straight honors Freshman Humanities and Honors English for my remaining 3 years.  I was also in various regular level classes.  I even had a basic math course my Senior year because of an undiagnosed learning disabilty.  I always felt challenged and never felt concern about being bullied for contributing in any of my classes.  I went on to a good college and felt extremely prepared.  I feel my education at ETHS is, in a large part, responsible for this. 

      I was born and raised here.  Moved away, but when it came time to decide where to raise my family, I was compelled to move back.  My children go to D65 schools and I feel nothing but hopefulness about the prospect of them going to ETHS one day.  It’s an amazing school that has a myriad of amazing grads to it’s credit.  This move by the board is an attempt to continue to improve the school by giving all kids in their Freshman year a chance to prove themselves.  The current mixed honors & straight honors is exactly the same curriculum.  It’s just that the kids who score 94-99th percentile the placement test taken by 8th graders, are put into a separate class.  Putting those scores aside (several hours in the life of a kid determines their track for 4 years!?), gives kids the chance to break out of that rigid tracking system & forge a path they might otherwise not have.  Honors and AP are here to stay and teachers are not just expected to magically know how to teach to these varied levels.  There is an amazing plan of ongoing support and training for them.  It’s in the plan & there for everyone to read. 

      Evanston is a complex and unique city.  I hope we all continue to ask difficult questions and grapple with the issues that have for too long been quietly boiling under the surface, but that we do it in an informed & responsible way.   

    3. No Disrespect Intended

      Not to disrespect the fantastic work that Mr. Smith does with this site, but let’s not pretend that some comments on an EvanstonNow article are going to be even a passable representation of Evanston’s opinion.

      And I’m a supporter, and proud to be one. I’m confused as to where you got the conclusion that ETHS is standing in the way of your children being well-adjusted. This program is empowering you and your children to succeed at the high school, and empowering the school to directly help children who do not have parents to succeed at the high school.

      Either your children are going to do fantastic work no matter the program at ETHS because they are not only analytically intelligent but already naturally possess the patience and maturity required for good study skills, or this program will help very clearly show them that the world does not reward an irrelevant test score, only relevant knowledge consistently tested. If you don’t think that five tests per semester on topic are better measurements of knowledge than one standardized test (with academically low standards, find your research) taken up to four years previous to the class, you haven’t thought about this for very long.

      So lets ignore the racial issue, shall we? Focus on your children and how they can succeed, and look at the tools that ETHS has now given you as a parent to teach them the value of honest hard work and attention to topic. Instead of your kid getting an "honors" education, your kid will receive the same education as everyone and it will be the responsibility of the teacher, the parent, and the student to help push the student higher than regular.

      Since you seem to be an involved parent, stay involved and your kids will succeed even more than before, because this initiative is getting national attention from prestigious universities across the country, and if your kids can earn these honors those schools know exactly what that means. This program is designed to also help kids who don’t have involved parents, whether they’re in the Support program or in Humanities with everyone else, look at the evolution of ETHS’s support programs over the last five years. 

      And being anonymous is shameful, it doesn’t take long to write your name in the reply box.  

      1. So what happens next?

        What happens when the kids for whom this proposal has been designed DON’T pass the honors asssessments? What happens when the overwhelming majority of kids who move into honors and AP-level classes in the upper grades (assuming they continue to be offered) continue to be white? What will the board do then to close the achievement gap, and how will they do it in a way that doesn’t reduce opportunities for others who are hungry for the challenge of accelerated work?

        As many have noted, the achievement gap can’t be closed in a single-year, last-ditch attempt. The roots of the problem extend far back to the earliest influences in the family. I am still not sure how this proposal is going to counter the relative lack of interest and support the parents of many of those kids have with regard to their education. 

        My daughter, a seventh grader, is at the 99th percentile in language arts and almost certainly would have been placed in straight-honors classes. She is frustrated and bored at Haven and was looking forward to being a class that moved at a faster pace in high school. So here’s what I told her after the proposal passed: "You are going to have to work and work hard in that humanities class. You are going to take those honors assessments and do the extra work to pass them to get honors credit. We will support you and give you all the help you need to do so."

        I have to wonder how many of the kids who are supposedly being "helped" by this proposal are receiving the same message from their parents. How many are being told: "Hey, you just got a golden opportunity here. Grab it with both hands. Do the work, and doors will open for you."

        Do you really think that’s happening on a broad scale? Because if it isn’t, then the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and the board’s good intentions will have been for naught.

        1. Haven…

          As a Haven graduate, I am sorry that your daughter is bored. I understand that issue personally. Haven is not the most well organized or focused institution of learning. It has a long way to come back from how poorly it was run when I was there, and I am sure that the legacy of the administration of the school still prohibits a lot of progress there, even now.

          However, that has nothing to do with the high school’s initiative, so I’ll get back to my argument. This proposal wasn’t only designed for minority students to achieve. This proposal was designed for ALL students to achieve. Minority students WILL benefit to a greater percentage because they have the farther road to travel according to the test scores at this point in time. The board, through the implementation of this program, is refusing to say that any tracking "system" is going to help anybody achieve any higher than they already would have without tracking. The board, through the implementation of this program, is INDIVIDUALIZING education and bringing the emphasis onto HOW MUCH YOU LEARN. I can’t see anything more color-blind than that. Whether you are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or multi-ethnic, the actual scores of 5 tests per semester on the actual material in the class is not something you can hide or explain away as irrelevant (which, if you notice, is what standardized testing has become as it has become more political — irrelevant to the material you actually learn in class).

          And when students of any age, race, gender, sexual persuasion, religious background, don’t earn the honors in these classes, either the parents and student and teacher, or the student and teacher and support staff, will be responsible for the student’s continued learning. There is no more giving up on the "non-academically gifted" and saying it’s okay to succeed at being normal. This is Evanston, and of course it isn’t okay to succeed at being normal. It is okay to succeed at being the best you can be, and nothing less, and without an individualized education, how can educators even begin to grasp for every student what the best you can be is?

          And as to your last point, if parents AREN’T looking at their kids and saying "This is a golden opportunity" every single day they wake up, they’re doing their kids a disservice. I love my parents, and I know if they had known to tell me to seize my opportunities and not look around at what everyone else was doing, I would be far smarter, wiser, and more accomplished than I am today. I think an overwhelming majority of parents in Evanston are already telling their kids to be the best they can be, but now with an earned honors initiative they’re given a fantastic tool to show that in blunt terms. What’s the old saying, you can tell someone the oven is hot but they might not know it until they burn their hand? Missing an honors credit for a smart kid is a great way to get a burned hand before the real world starts with much heavier consequences for not listening to wisdom.

      2. D202 Board made this into a race issue, not parents

        Let’s ignore the race issue, you say?

        Try telling that to Witherspoon and the D202 Board because they decided to spread advanced freshmen coursework to every student that scores above the 40th percentile (below the median) only because there are too many white students who score in the 95th percentile and are admitted into the advanced honors program.

        In other words, the D202 Board’s new honors policy was enacted due to racial quotas.

        Ask yourself, what kind of message does this new policy send to motivated white students? Or, to hard-working and competent African-American students?  

        Here’s a clue – as a student, you either have an academic advantage or disadvantage based on the color of your skin.

        That’s called racism where I come from.

        1. If You’re A Parent


          The district ought to be ashamed of any achievement gap between students, no matter the perceived reason for the gap. We may call it black and white, but there are as you’ve noticed plenty of extremely talented, intelligent black students at ETHS, and there are also white students who score below the 40% line. I’m willing to bet that the real division between students is whether they have support and institutional knowledge from their parents, whether they’re white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or multi-ethnic.

          And while the district has indeed proclaimed this as a boon for the racial education divide, are you not able to come up with your own analysis? Certainly I hear what Dr. Witherspoon and his staff are saying, but I am not willing to discount the idea that they have missed the real beauty of this earned honors initiative.

          And the discussion actually has been far more nuanced than the color of your skin. Evanstonians seem to realize that there isn’t a racial divide as much as there is a socioeconomic divide that happens to correspond with race. With a socioeconomic divide as disparate as we have in one community, it follows that students on opposite sides of the divide will have different issues when it comes to learning, and ETHS is not providing an equal playing field as these young people learn to overcome their particular obstacles.

          If you say that just because you test well and can do well in school that you have an easy life, I think you would even call yourself out for not seeing the whole picture. This program will provide SUPPORT to the kids that need support, and MOTIVATION to kids that need motivation. Find me another structure that can do both simultaneously. The current system fails miserably, and I’m glad they’re making ETHS a better place.

        1. Mr. Sorensen, Please

          This is not only de-tracking. This is earned honors. Parents of the Steinbergian CWB kids need to engage their kids. Parents of the Steinbergian LD kids need to engage their kids. Parents of the Steinbergian "middle-class" need to engage their kids. What he is saying is that smart kids won’t be able to succeed because non-smart kids around them will slow them down. What happens when these smart kids get into the real world, into college, work environments, relationships, family, etc? They don’t slow down, they adjust. Mature people adjust and do better. Part of an education is learning to adjust, and ETHS will do that as well with this initiative.

          But the most important part, again, is that every individual ETHS student needs to achieve to their highest level. That’s all. This program will make that abundantly clear to the student, parents, staff, and college admissions officers whether they applied themselves to learning the material in front of them. Why would an elite college admit a brilliant student with no patience to follow through on simple tasks like learning the material well enough to retain knowledge for your 5 semester exams? Its an absolute myth that the 5% at the top will be admitted everywhere based on their brilliance alone. They just won’t. ETHS is giving every student the ability to show colleges that not only are they brilliant, but they’re well-adjusted human beings who can achieve above and beyond basic requirements and do so on a regular basis.

          So I have to disagree with both your characterization of me as a woman, me with an "o" in the end of my name, and that the Steinberg column appropriately addresses the real initiative taking place at ETHS. You can keep reading the Trib or Sun Times analysis, or you can go to the primary source and find out the real requirements (its all in a 4 page .pdf file, takes five minutes). Then, because you are right to be concerned that the curriculum stays high, you can demand knowledgably from the administration that they ensure the curriculum for both freshman Humanities and freshman Biology remain tied to high academic standards, like International Baccalaureate standards (which is what they’re creating the coursework from) into perpetuity, and that the school ALWAYS look to improve upon this initiative by ensuring that all students get access to the resources they need to achieve at their highest possible level.

          1. D202’s objective should be raise the test scores of ALL students

            The primary objective of D202 and D65 is to close the gap.

            The only logical way to close the gap is to increase the test scores of the lower bracket students and decrease the scores on the higher end – hence, closing the gap.

            You can not close the gap if the test scores rise on both the lower and higher brackets.

            It is clear that D65 and D202’s relentless intent to close the gap is an exercise in dumbing down education.

            Now watch the mass exodus of high-achieving students preparing to enter ETHS, which cost taxpayers $20,000 per student each year.

            Perhaps this is the true intent of the D202 Board – scare away the top scoring students. Then it’s easier to reach the objective – close the gap.

          2. It is.

            The goal of District 65 and District 202 is to make sure every single individual who attends school is given tools and education that will allow them to continue to grow and nuture a love of life-long learning.

            The #1 goal of D65 is stated as "Improve Academic Achievement". Not relationally, not subjective achievement. That document was approved September 22, 2008, and hasn’t been modified, and runs through next year.

            I can’t find the stated goals or mission statement of D202, but I’m sure it doesn’t mention a racial achievement gap. I’m absolutely sure that the school is dedicated, in writing, to ensuring every student walking through its halls achieves to their highest capability.

            That’s not to say closing the gap shouldn’t be important; it is important. I don’t think your analysis is correct when you say that the school can’t close the racial gap on test scores when white scores improve AND black scores improve. You’re assuming they have to assume on a point-to-point ratio. I don’t know if diminishing returns is an appropriate theory here, but that would be one form of analysis that would tell you it will be easier to gain higher returns for the same dollars for lower scoring groups than it will be for higher scoring groups.

            I like to think of it differently, though, and I think many people around the high school think the way I do but haven’t had the time to articulate this in this process. I think it isn’t a racial divide, that the racial divide is a statisical correlation but not a causation. I think the causation of low scores and high scores starts with involved parents and an involved infrastructure at the school in question. I think the best way to improve any one individual’s test scores, grades, and level of learning (three very different things) then the most important thing to do is treat that student as an individual, instead of classifying them as black/white, poor/rich, foreign/citizen, etc. Instead of focusing on the "groups" at the high school based on tests that are not worth the stock we have put in them, we need to be focusing on each individual student and their particular obstacles.

            Yes that may raise the $20,000 bill per student, and our debate should move to how much do we as an Evanston society want to pay, how much can we pay, and how can we innovate in our education practices to cut the costs of educating students the way we need to educate them to succeed in the post-industrial world.

            I don’t like the cynicism latent in your pseudo-suggestion that the D202 board would ever attempt to discourage intelligent students from attending ETHS. Its disrespectful and rude, even for an internet forum. I understand the cynicism is created by frustration, but I can think of many other ways to express your frustration that could contribute to the future of ETHS and the debate on this initiative than to be suggesting foolish thoughts.

          3. D202 and the Achievement Gap

            Mr. Sorenson,

            I think you come late, uninformed, and rather naive to this discussion. The D202 Board recently approved an Equity Statement that says (among other things) that they are committed to assuring that all ETHS staff members "with deliberate effort, continue to examine and eliminate institutional beliefs, policies, practices, and teaching that perpetuate racial disparities in achievement." It also states that they are committed to "eliminating the racial predictability of achievement." Dr. Witherspoon repeatedly quoted that last statement when addressing the Freshman Restructuring proposal. If that doesn’t speak to the achievement gap, I don’t know what does.

            I’m sure we can all agree that "the best way to improve any one individual’s test scores, grades, and level of learning (three very different things) then the most important thing to do is treat that student as an individual, instead of classifying them as black/white, poor/rich, foreign/citizen, etc. Instead of focusing on the "groups" at the high school based on tests that are not worth the stock we have put in them, we need to be focusing on each individual student and their particular obstacles." But guess what, there is a little detail called No Child Left Behind that lumps kids into "subgroups" and assesses them on a standardized test, taken on one day. Then it compares those groups from one year to the next and punishes the school if the scores of those groups haven’t gone up enough. 

            You offer a valuable contribution to this discussion as someone who attended ETHS very recently. But your remarks, if you forgive me, sound a bit Pollyanna-ish in this discussion. You may complain about the cynicism of others but you should know that that cynicism comes from years of watching school board dynamics and the failure of instructors, particularly in D65 to adequately engage our children.

          4. Pollyanna?

            Ms. Wallis,

            I’d like to start by saying I’d appreciate it if you spelled my name correctly. I think I’ve already addressed that in another area of this thread. Details are important, and I would appreciate it if you would approach the small details of our conversation with the zeal you’ve applied to your analysis of this initiative.

            I’d also like to understand where you get the understanding that an Equity Statement is somehow considered the overarching, primary document that governs the way the entire school district is run. That would be a mission or purpose statement or goal list, akin to what District 65 displays on its website. I did not find the District 202 equivalent, but I am absolutely sure it is not the Equity Statement. I also said that even if closing the racial achievement gap is not the number one goal (the point that was made in the post I was refuting) it should still be considered an extremely important part of the educational mission of our districts.

            Ma’am, I am also well aware of the No Child Left Behind standards, and if I can be so bold as a private citizen, I can think they are misguided and may possibly be altered in the coming two-to-six years. If I don’t agree that NCLB is a well-designed national program, and I certainly don’t agree that NCLB benefits Evanston or ETHS specifically, then why would I want ETHS to model their educational structure after NCLB? Do you believe NCLB provides a viable framework for Evanston schools? Yes, federal funding may be taken away for failing, but unfortunately, we are already failing our NCLB standards at ETHS, so staying static will not get us any federal funding anyway. So again, your argument doesn’t address the point of the conversation.

            As I’ve said in many areas in this conversation and others, this is a step towards individualized education, and a huge step. It isn’t a cure or a fix or a solution, but I’m not naive enough to think we can do everything in a single bound.

            On a more personal note, I would appreciate if you didn’t try to attack my legitimacy as a speaker but instead debated what I had to say on the merits instead of dismissing me due to my age and the timing of my comments. The value I add to this conversation has little to do with graduating in 2005*, as the school was a drastically different place to learn. Dr. Alson had a very different operating style and agenda, the school day was organized differently, and emphasis was placed in other areas. The value I add to this conversation is an educated and active perspective that previously has laid dormant. I would appreciate it if in the future you didn’t denigrate my contributions by telling me I haven’t been around the block enough times. As far as coming late to the conversation, I have professional reasons of my own as to why I haven’t talked about this publicly until now, but I have absolutely been following these developments over the last two months, and was aware of the "mixed" initiative two years ago. If you’d like to start proving bona fides, ladies first, ma’am.

            I am glad that you regularly attend District board meetings, and I am indebtted to you as another resident of Evanston that you have had such a long time of passionate engagement when it comes to our school system. However, that doesn’t make cynicism acceptable. It’s not a subjective issue, there is no mitigating factor debate over cynicism. This is the education of youth, and if you’re telling me that due to your long experience you’ve given up and started to believe that only the basest motivations could move people to change, where else in the human experience could you find hope? So if you forgive me, I’ll have to call your bluff on acceptable cynicism. Every new opportunity always presents chances to change previous mistakes. Laugh it off as naive, and you do yourself and the school district a disservice.

            *edit: I do think graduating in 2005 has given me a more student-oriented perspective, as I haven’t had children of my own attend ETHS, so my judgement is certainly different. However, that difference doesn’t give my opinion any more or less value than any other interested party in the conversation. Its just different.

          5. Bona Fides

             First, I was not implying that NCLB was a desirable standard, merely that it was a fact of life that ETHS (and D65) have to abide by and that it has a lot to do with what is driving the decision-making in those districts. Is it a good thing? No. Is it reality? Yes.

            Second, I did not attack your legitimacy as a speaker because you are young. I said that you had a valuable contribution to make because of your recent experience as a student at ETHS. You are the one who is now saying that that experience is not comparable to the current environment. But your earlier comments in this thread cited your personal experience as an example of why you support the administration’s plan. Which is it? 

            What kind of bona fides do I need to provide to establish an understanding of this or other school-related topics? Parent of recent grad from ETHS (last June), two current ETHS students, all three of whom attended D65 schools K-8. Two years as PTA Council president. ETHS PTSA Board member for the past 3 years. ETHS SIT member. ETHS Curriculum Forum member. D65 Technology Committee member. D65 Communications Committee Member. I think most people who follow school issues in this community know who I am and what I stand for.

            I respect your opinion, Mr. Sorenson.  I think that it is important to have a Pollyanna in every conversation. Just as it is also important to have a Cassandra. (Cassandra, you may recall, was given the gift of prophesy by Apollo, but when she spurned his advances he cursed her by having no one believe what she said.) I feel that I have often been Cassandra when speaking to the two school boards. Once again, this time I hope that I’m not.

          6. Personal

            ETHS has not yet passed NCLB standards, not a single year. I still don’t see how continuing on the same course, even for another year, is somehow related to NCLB. I think it wasn’t a true or essential argument to bring up in the course of this discussion. I would rather ETHS focuses on educating students to our community standards than NCLB standards, because it’s not like we would be jeopardizing funds by failing NCLB next year, we’re already without them.

            And I do believe you attacked my legitimacy as a speaker due to my youth. "Late, uninformed, and naive" and "pollyanna-ish" are not compliments. My personal experience can motivate me to pay attention and to selfishly support ETHS initiatives, but my analysis of this initiative is certainly not encompassed by my personal experience. You also characterized my opinions, and I think that would be unfair if I returned the method. "Oh, Ms. Wallis is an insider, she’s spent too much time trying to change the system, so there’s no hope she could be right". I think this sounds about as ridiculous in print as it would in person, not to mention offensive and disrespectful. I won’t do that because I not only know you have a far better understanding of the nuts and bolts of this situation than I do, I respect what you have to say and your opposition to the initiative. I’m trying to persuade you (and like-minded others in the forum) that your conclusions aren’t correct and that this is a good initiative. I’m certainly not trying to attack you, but I will defend myself.

            Which leads me to my next point: it wasn’t fair of me to ask for bona fides. That wasn’t my point, and I wasn’t communicating clearly. I was frustrated that an involved and passionate Evanstonian would denigrate my contribution to the conversation purely because they had been involved longer than I have. I can personally vouch that your involvement has made a mark in the community, I knew who you were by name before seeing your posting here. I know what you have done, and I think I have thanked you before, and I will thank you again for your work and attention and involvement.

            A reference to Cassandra isn’t necessary. It seems irreverent of you to suggest that your knowledge is fated and people are also fated not to listen to your warnings. I understand the frustration inherent with Evanston politics and Evanston schools, I really do, but frustration leading to a feeling of fate is cynical. We as people aren’t truly ever set in our patterns, and the Karl Marx quote I posted to "karl marx" sums that point up very well. I certainly don’t like the transitive conclusion that if you are fated to speak the truth, and people who are not you are fated to not listen, that somehow I am fated to not listen to you. That’s certainly insulting, and based on your petition-drive and all of your involvement, I don’t think you actually believe it.

            Outside of all of the real world frustration that comes with dealing in local politics, I don’t see why this initiative suffers based on its content. Certainly it could have been explained more thoroughly, and the benefits I have been talking about should have first come from the school. Now that we’re here, do you see any of the value I’ve described in the initiative? Earning honors? Not assuming students will learn in a linear fashion? Giving extra help to move ahead AND support, not just extra support? Not allowing a test that doesn’t even show proficiency but instead national averages determine the learning path of a young mind? The limited nature of the initiative in that it covers the Humanities and Biology, two classes in particular where divergent thinking can be extremely valuable?

            I can talk about all of the fantastic things this initiative is designed to accomplish without mentioning a racial achievement gap, because this initiative will not only affect young people of a certain race. This initiative, fairly, will help every student no matter the color, gender, etc. create their own education paths and ensure the school isn’t paying attention to one group or another group but instead to every single individual student. The danger exists that it could be executed poorly, but execution and structure are two different conversations. I understand the worry about disrupted learning time and slow curriculums, but those are worries regardless of the assigned honors/earned honors decisions.

          7. Expectations

            I don’t believe it is dumbing down education.

            In fact I’m puzzled, wouldn’t you want your/our children to go to be educated in a manner with high expectations for all? If that is not the expectation of the administration and every teacher to ‘label’ students and let them live by those expectations…

            "Hey this is a "C" Honors student!" 

            Instead of believing that each student is capable of doing their best and needs to be in an atmosphere where they can.

            Expectations are what drives education (look at studies of the educational successes of people from the Asian culture.) Expectations are what drives athletes (what coach gets very far not believing his/her team can win?) Expectations are what drives business (what boss expects less than the best?)

          8. Competition

            Right on!!

            Medical schools should select candidates based on their skin color and socio-economic status rather than how high their test scores are.

            The Evanston high school football and basketball teams should allow ALL the athletes to get equal playing time, and admit on the team ANYONE who wants to play, even the handicapped. I mean, administrators and coaches should have high expectations for ALL.

            Yes, rather than simply increase the workload and expectations for students in the general curriculum we should eliminate the exclusivity of advanced honor courses for students who score in the 95th percentile on achievement tests because, as it turns out, they’re mostly white.

            No sir, D202 Board members and administrators such as Witherspoon are not dumbing down education, they’re dumbing it up.

            Yeah, that’s the ticket!

          9. High expectations for ALL

            High expectations for ALL doesn’t have to mean perfect grades, equal knowledge, and perfect ACT/SAT scores for ALL. What it means is expecting a student coming in at 100% proficiency as a freshman to move up a grade, while a student coming in at 20% proficiency as a freshman to move up to at least 100% of what they need to know, while a student coming in at 20% with a learning disability move up to 100% of their individual capability, so on and so forth.

            If what you are saying is that the super-intelligent kids need to be pushed, I don’t think anybody disagrees. If what you are saying is that the super-intelligent kids can only move forward faster in their learning by having them in the same classes with each other, you’re definitely wrong. There’s a lot more to learning than being super-intelligent, and this initiative doesn’t take away all tracking, it takes away freshman Humanities and freshman Biology tracking. Students should be given a chance to earn their track rather than have it placed on them by one Saturday morning test score in 8th grade that doesn’t even measure proficiency in the subject matter.

          10. A short story that was prescient

             There is a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman that describes a future world where everyone is equal and achievement is equal.  To achieve that some people are required to be "challenged" lest they distort the achievement levels. Some dancers have to wear ankle weights. Some actors are required to place pebbles in their mouths when they speak. Some sculptors and artists wear heavy mittens…

            D202 must be inspired by that short story…

          11. Harrison Bergeron

             Karl, I think you are referring to the story "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut not Bruce Jay Friedman. I agree, I think it should be required reading for next year’s incoming freshmen.

          12. re Vonnegut


            Thanks for the correction. My memory has been addled by all this PC bafflegab at ETHS.

          13. Of course, high expectations for all.

            Just don’t mix all the kids regardless of their ability levels.

            The kids that are capable of handling more complex material and moving more quickly should be grouped together. Those that need to move at a more deliberate pace should have their own class.

            That’s the crux of the controversy here.

          14. Of course, here is what differentiated instruction should be:

            What parent wouldn’t want their child to be taught using these types of tasks below to learn? One thing to keep in mind is classrooms are going from a perspective of an educator ‘imparting knowledge’ to a student ‘uncovering knowledge’.

            From Carol Tomlinson’s presentation in D. 65:

            Copyright Carol Tomlinson 2010 26

            What is teaching up?

            Clear KUDs (what the student should Know, Understand and Do)
            Require careful thought
            Focus on understanding
            Problems to solve/Issues to address
            Use key knowledge & skills to explore,
            or extend understandings
            Require support, explanation, application,
            evaluation, transfer
            Criteria at or above “meets expectations”
            Require metacognition, reflection, planning,

          15. Middle Class School Spending

            An article in the Wall Street Journal Sept. 12 compares spending on Middle vrs. Low and Upper Class spending.

            The surprise is the Middle Class does not rank where most would think.


                             Per Student Spending      Teacher Salaries

            Upper             $11,925                        54,035                  

            Middle               10,349                        48,434 

            Lower                11,799                        50,039

             Leaving aside the surprise in these numbers, one wonders why Evanston spends $20,000 per student.  The argument  made when comparing Evanston to other districts [like New Trier] is that Evanston has a more diverse population and thus must teach at more levels [I guess assuming Lower class students are not as bright—per liberal dogma].  But Evanston is spending not much less than the combined sums [about $24,000] for Lower and Upper !   Something is wrong here.   

          16. Earned honors, fine. Mixed-level, not so fine.

            Earned honors is fine. It never seemed fair to me that the straight-honors kids got an extra .5 added to their GPA simply because they were in the straight-honors class. Let everyone earn honors credit the hard way.

            But the fact is, that high-ability kids DO benefit by being grouped together. Yes, they do:


            The fact is that these kids are ALREADY coming from District 65, where they have spent nine years learning with kids of varying levels of ability.The notion that they need to be able to "adjust" to a world where everyone has different abilities would seem to be an argument for de-tracking completely and eliminating all honors classes from the curriculum. "Hey, if the kids are only learning with other smart kids, how will they ever learn to work with people who aren’t as smart and hard-working as they?" A specious argument. 

            No one is really looking out for the interests of the kids in the top 5 percent here. The underlying assumption is, "They’re smart, they already have advantages, they’ll be fine." They may indeed be "fine" but they won’t necessarily end up being much more than that. 

          17. It is not my intention to say

            It is not my intention to say that the most able kids need to adjust to other kids, my intention is to examine the assumptions that you (and the article you posted) take on what it means to be "able" in a classroom.

            We are talking about removing designated tracks in freshman Humanities and freshman Biology, not math classes, nor higher level sciences, nor languages. As I’m not a doctorate candidate in the field of education, child psychology, or any advanced field directly related to this, I can’t say why exactly Humanities and math are different, but I feel confident that we can see that they do take different skills, with math heavily relying on only one method while the Humanities can be approached from many more divergent methods of thought.

            What’s needed to understand the full complexity of this change is a redefinition of the terms of education. Previously, we have classified kids as some type of intelligence, and that was the only way we tracked kids. Intelligence is not enough, because intelligence is just one tool to use to really learn.

            Ability to learn is based not only on intelligence, which is where we get our test scores and how we are classifying the top 5%, but on diligence. Right now, ETHS does not do a good job of ensuring students who are intelligent are also diligent, and it absolutely struggles with ensuring students who aren’t in the top 5% of intelligence feel that their diligence has equal value. The students who are overwhelmingly intelligent (people who score well on standardized tests) are not necessarily guaranteed to be diligent, and having honors classes together with only children of the same intelligence level can cloud the reasons why some intelligent kids succeed masterfully and others continue to not live up to expectations they receive due to their intelligence. Why do some brilliant kids work really hard and why do kids with seemingly equal intelligence never turn in homework? I’m just staying with the top 5% in this post, but obviously we can talk about why do some people who never score well on tests succeed in life-long learning and are amazing academic scholars when others who are more classically "intelligent" drop out of college?

            ETHS is indeed looking out for the interests of the kids in the top 5% intelligence bracket with this initiative. That top 5% does not have school figured out just by scoring well on tests and having analytical capabilities beyond their peer age group. Learning, real learning, is a far more complex process than scoring well on non-material based standardized tests. This initiative looks out for those kids by ensuring that they have to find motivation for themselves to go above and beyond requirements, requiring patience and diligence to get their work done (for a good grade) and to gain a mastery of the concepts of the class (to get your honors credit by scoring well on the five material-based tests per semester). Instead of reinforcing the notion that the top 5% can hold that school is a game to be figured out and reinforcing the utilitarian youth ideal work schedule of the minimal effort for the maximum grade, an earned honors initiative like this doesn’t allow kids to feel privileged with their top 5% analytical skills.

            It isn’t just building relationships, and I diverge from the District 202 talking point schedule when I say this, because I think that is a secondary (and not guaranteed) benefit of this program. What it does for the top 5% is give them more truth and push them towards more true learning, rather than learning how to manipulate a system for selfish benefit. Placing them in the classroom during Humanities and freshman Biology with students who may not be as intelligent but who also are trying to succeed can influence their thinking and spawn new creativity as well as new relationships. I have a personal anecdote from district 65 here, I was good at mental math for a long time, but due to my exposure to students who didn’t have the raw intelligence that I had growing up introduced me to lattice multiplication. I would not have necessarily recognized the amazing qualities of lattice multiplication if I had only been with kids on the same raw computing power level as I was. I may have learned the concept, and may or may not have listened to the teacher. I may just as easily have said "I’m doing just fine the way I am, thanks", a youthful pride that comes with intelligence that very easily falls into arrogance.

            I’m trying to fit an hour-long discourse into a posted response, if you’re confused by what I’m saying I’d be happy to explain this off the boards. cdsorens@gmail.com

          18. schools working against their purpose

            Christian, much of the posting on this topic has been talk of what this percentage of students is like or that percentage. What goes unsaid is the any student gets out of school what he or she puts into it.

            The schools cannot address each student individually in a way that will motivate all of them. Public schools can never be the equivalent of private tutors.

            The schools offer a courses of study. What a student will get from those courses cannot be given to him/her unless he/she is interested in succeeding. There have been many attempts to give success to the student in the form of making classes easier, grade inflation, etc. All are counterproductive.

            I got far, far less out of my ETHS education than many of my classmates. I got out of it what I put into it and that was the minimum. My parents encouraged me, the teachers encouraged me, but I had no interest in what I was being taught and preferred to have fun with friends and have as much free time as possible – it was a point of pride with me that I never carried home any school books while others were loaded down. My grades reflected my attitude. None of my peers were pressuring me not to "not act white" because I am white. I just didn’t care. Nobody told me I needed greater self-esteem, but it wouldn’t have mattered because I didn’t see my self-worth in school achievement. Is there any doubt this attitude still exists for many students, regardless of race?

            Way too many assumptions are made on racial group characterizations, in fact I’d say that many academic careers have been made on this alone.

            When my children attended ETHS it was crystal clear to me that I had passed up incredible possibilities, all there for the taking if I had been interested and I graduated in 1968.

            What makes the never-ending attempt to make the schools do what they cannot do obvious is the claim made, just as the superintendent just did recently, that there can be no more waiting, that "we" have been waiting 100+ years.

            There is no waiting for those who have "ganas", the desire to succeed in school. Rearranging classes and courses of study will not change this.

            Honestly, I can say that my parents and my home life made me the person that I am far beyond any school or class I ever took. It was only when I got out of college (where I also floated along), that I saw my life in front of me and knew I had to swim or continue treading water. THAT is what got me going. I wanted to succeed and I did.

            TV, video games, popular culture, celebrities all say "you don’t need school". Stars from Tom Cruise to Michael Jackson are just being themselves and make (or made) millions. How about rap stars whose main theme seems to be sexual conquest and ego gratification? The power of this stuff hardly existed when I went to high school – the Beatles were just getting started.

            The schools are ever more out of the loop of what most kids see as success. Again, the Witherspoon initiative is just more wheel spinning as the schools look more irrelevent than ever. But schools are a proven pathway to success involving hard work, and re-arranging things without regard to the kids who see this and strive greatly to use that pathway to the greatest extent is penalizing the very people who know what education can do and go for it.

            We are designing education around excuses for failure. The elephants in the room, popular culture, peer culture and parents (or the lack thereof) are things about which the school can do nothing. None are so blind as those who will not see – be they students or administrators.

            The irony is the school administrators are pandering to the students who do not see the value of school, while letting the acheivers do as best they can.

          19. How?

            I completely disagree. How is the administration pandering to students? Students who score well on tests but do not see the value of school will have their honors credit taken away, and that’s on a case-by-case, class-by-class basis. What is a better education for the real world than realizing that yes, you can directly influence your own life with your work ethic and intelligence in school?

            And how can you suggest public schools, with the resources of the entire community, can’t replace parents if the parents aren’t around? In loco parentis, in loco parentis, in loco parentis. We ran away from the doctrine right before you graduated from high school as a society, and it has come to haunt us.

            I agree with you that schools can only give you what you put into the school. However, don’t fool yourself into thinking ETHS can only help students with their educations through the current system. Individualizing education is about a comprehensive view of the student and learning, not basing it only on grades and test scores.

            ETHS should be motivating every type of person every way into success. Yes, the students will fail, and probably often, but ETHS teachers and administrators are not the only actors in the student’s lives, and this initiative is a step closer towards fulfilling the role of the school as one of the many important factors in a student’s motivation.This closes the gap between those who have parents who know how to influence a system and those who do not, by placing the effort directly into the students hands and making the consequences immediate and easy to interpret for the school.

            You’re also defining success in your final three paragraphs with money. Are Tom Cruise and Michael Jackson successful? From what I’ve read, Mike seemed to have one of the most haunted lives of any pop star out there, and I know nothing about Tom Cruise. The point of an education is to not just give you tools to get a job, but give you tools to be a citizen, to be a productive member of society, whether that brings you riches or not is often based on luck. I also don’t buy the argument at all that TV, video games, pop culture all say "you don’t need school". Some people have talents above and beyond the norm and we pay money to those people for their artistic talents, but school helps you manage that money, have a constructive life, awareness of your opportunity and humility for your talents. Education is a lot bigger than scoring well on tests or getting good grades, and that is the definition a community like Evanston has used and will continue to use.

            We are not designing ETHS around an excuse for failure by implementing an earned honors initiative. There is no excuse for failure when the grades and your honors credit have to be constantly proven. This isn’t some cloudy system where the requirements say "If you score X% in this class, you’re an honor student, unless your parents raise a big enough stink and force you into an honors class"

            I’m confused where you see my racial characterizations, or where there may be racial characterizations in this actual initiative. Yes, there have been racial characterizations made to support the implementation of this initiative, but you should at least give credit to my idea that it is entirely possible that this program can end racial characterizations because it replaces group education with individual education. I still believe that within five years, New Trier (or other largely single-ethnic bastions of education) will adopt this earned honors idea to their school and not breathe a word about racial education gaps. The concepts of their program will be the same. The idea is to stop the entitlement for students who don’t care.

          20. D202 gab

             Christian, you are well on your way to being part of the educational oligopoly by your wordiness.

            There is no one way for educational achievement because there are many variables. Unless we try and measure achievement with true quantitative measures we are pounding sand. There is no one way. But there are successes such as Urban Prep in Englewood, Christo Rey, Noble, etc. The essential element is that they are not part of the mainstream educational oligopoly. Perhaps the best approach might be to set up a separate school for those who have achievement issues to make up for what D65 did not accomplish.

            But that would be tracking…

          21. Doubtful, but I’ll take it as a compliment


            Thanks, I guess.

            I don’t agree that a separate school should be set up. I think that setting up a separate school would really enforce the idea that a kid can’t possibly get any smarter than they are at 5-18, and they should stop trying.

            I’m also confused about measuring education by true quantitative measures. What do you mean?

          22. No need for separate school

             I mentioned some of the schools that do succeed because it is the approach they use. Urban Prep shares the same building with a CPS high school, but their approach is different. They have a longer school day and teachers are at will.

            Again there is no magic way, but some approaches are better than others and at lower cost — remember money is  a scarce resource also.

            Quantitative testing? Gee, where have you been?

            Again D65 seems to be ignored. My kids went to D65 schools and I had to intervene, especially in middle school when we had the misfortune to have an ineffective teacher and it was impossible to remove him. They eventually transferred him to do damage elsewhere.

            I agree with Ms. Wallis, pollyanna is an apt description.

            Do join the educational oligopoly. You fit in well.

          23. Okay.

            "The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbrinding, forgets that it is men that change circumstances and that the educator himself needs educating."

            I hope my admission to the educational oligopoly has more to do with my truthiness than my wordiness.

            I asked you what you define as "true quantitative testing" because I am not an advanced education scholar and I was wondering if that was a technical term. Being sarcastic is immature. We’re not deciding the future of the initiative on this board, however passionately we approach the issue. We are exchanging ideas and building community bonds and furthering conversation, outside of some argumentum ad hominem on my youth from one member of the forum. I’m surprised you joined in, I’ve read your comments on EvanstonNow in other articles and this didn’t seem in your character. Denigrating my contributions as optimistic and cheerful is surprising in a conversation about youth and education. If you really don’t see any hope for the future, why debate? Why haven’t you packed up and left the forum already? At least you have to be optimistic that you have a better solution than the one the board came up with to continue to tell people that this solution is no good.

            You ask about District 65, and I want to know how District 65 is being ignored, because this initiative seems to put a lot of pressure on the 65 school board and Dr. Murphy. I think this initiative is District 202’s way of addressing underlying education foundations that start in District 65, which I find better than crying foul that District 65 is making their job impossible and that they’re giving up.

            By saying some approaches are better than others at lower cost, *you are saying that this current initiative will add cost to the ETHS education, what are the areas adding costs that you are concerned about? I think this initiative will add costs in that the support structure will have to be reinvented to handle both extra help to catch up AND extra help to get ahead, but the support structure at ETHS has already undergone drastic improvements in the last decade. 

            You were the person suggesting separate schools as a possible alternative, and I was simply answering I don’t agree. If you never intended that as a serious suggestion, I don’t know why you made the comparison between those schools solution to an achievement gap and ETHS. If you were just trying to say that we should rigorously investigate every possible alternative or new process to improve education in Evanston, I completely agree. I’m also here and willing to pay my taxes to whatever cost necessary to improve Evanston’s education system.

            What’s really shocking to me is the attitude from people who would call what I am saying "pollyanna-ish" is that they’re acting as if this question is already decided, or over, or impossible to change. There is no settled question in a social or political realm. Even if one person isn’t strong enough individually to move an issue, it isn’t settled, it just means that one person isn’t strong enough and needs better arguments or more friends. Merely by responding with half-hearted sarcastic and/or anonymous comments people continue to debate the merits of the initiative and will do so for as long as they choose. There is no other power cutting off debate, or forcing people to move on to another topic, you can go on as long as you want. I would appreciate from parents and responsible adults a better example to a youth my age than cynicism, petty insults, and capitulation. 

            Would you be in favor of creating a charter school?

            "The education of all children, from the moment that they can get along without a mother’s care, shall be in state institutions."

             *had to edit some word arrangement, sorry.

          24. schools can’t transform society – we desperately want them to
            Christian, I’ve no doubt your intentions are good, but you are presenting a vision of schools that is impossible, though in keeping with the efforts made in Evanston for decades now. The schools cannot stand in for society. There is no substitution for parents, there is no systematic way to implant initiative in students, what peers say trumps what students hear from schools and what culture holds up as success cannot be erased.

            It boils down to a very simple fact: success come from individual desire and cannot be forced. If the students don’t arrive with it, with rare exceptions involving this or that particular student and teacher, the schools aren’t going to create it.

            I asked my son, now 26, if he noticed any change in any of his many Evanston friends as they progressed through the schools. He said they came out pretty much the same as they had always been – no educational epiphanies. That’s what what I saw with my friends over 40 years ago. So it will be with my grandchildren.

            Check with psychiatrists and psychologists to find out how very difficult it is to get people to break out of self-defeating behavior – with the notable exception of using specific drugs for certain problems. These professionals are being paid by the person who wants to change and they are working intensively one-on-one.

            Yet we are to believe in the magic of teacher training to cover a class of 25? 30? 35 students and have them come out empowered and motivated to succeed.

            It’s fantasy, requiring rain-makers to keep the public hoping.

            The schools offer subjects of study taught by people who we hope know the subject they teach. What an opportunity there for the taking, open to all! All may take as much as they will. That’s all the schools can do.

          25. Thank you


            I understand what you’re saying, I am just disagreeing, you use your life and your experiences as grounding your understanding of the situation, I’m using mine too.

            I have to disagree with your statement that schools can’t stand in for society, because they have in my case. And I have to disagree with your statement that students don’t change as people from kindergarten to senior year, because it absolutely happened multiple times in my case. I don’t believe in the magic of teacher training, I know and agree that any change has to come from within, but teachers, parents, administrators, peers, coaches, whatever, they all can influence you once you’ve made the choice.

            I am not saying this initiative will "cure" or "fix" public education; this is still an important step towards BETTER education, and I really believe this system is more fair, just, and will benefit more people who choose to change, and convince others on the fence that the time for them to change is now.

  10. Where is the curriculum?

    Since there has not been a curriculum identified for the humanities course, do not be surprised if western civilization is greatly reduced —because after all, that is largely white and male.

    1. Yes, minority children do not

      Yes, minority children do not do well because they cannot relate to the curriculum because it  unduly focuses on the Great Books, which tell the White European story.

      This has also hurt self esteem and makes them feel marginalized and this is especially so in a classroom where the students who would have been in their own honors class before the change, now monopolize the conversation and ace the benchmarks with minimal effort.

      Therefore, since the problem is based on the dominant culture, the curriculum needs to be changed to afrocentric. This will help the white children and make them more appealing to college admission boards. If their AP scores go down, that is because the test is biased to a white european model . . .

      1. Another post that blames the “white” culture

        There is no evidence that proves what you say is true – it’s just another excuse.

        How do you explain the math scores?

        How do you explain the Afro-centric curriculum (ACC) at Oakton where ACC students consistently score lower than African-American students in the mainstream courses learning so-called white European history? There is an average 16 students in ACC classes where the rest of the elementary classes have more than 23 students.

        This isn’t about self esteem or feeling marginalized because of white European history. It’s the family structure – most of these students scoring low on achievement tests come from single-parent families many of whom were born out of wedlock and are latchkey kids. There is an element in our community that feeds on social welfare and government handouts to survive.

        And now kids from two-parent families, many of whom are African-American, must suffer.

        Your post is another example of the dishonesty and political correctness thriving in our community.

        This is the kind of mindset the D202 School Board and Eric Witherspoon are serving.

        BTW- D65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy sent out an email to all D65 parents urging them to listen to a lecture about the differentiation method. Yes, Murphy used his office to support D202’s move to expand the freshmen honors course to all students scoring above the 40th percentile on the achievement tests. 

        Evanston schools continue to dumb down education. It’s time to consolidate the two districts – it makes fiscal sense.

        1. Misinformation

          Re: this post’s reference to Dr. Murphy’s invitation to parents to attend Dr. Tomlinson’s lecture a few weeks ago…

          D65 is in third year of an initiative for differentiated instruction. On December 1, Dr. Tomlinson spoke to all D65 teachers in the afternoon, and with community members in the evening. Her visit was planned last year–long before Dr. Witherspoon submitted his proposal. 

          Dr. Tomlinson’s visit was aligned with D65 long-term goals for making curriculum and instruction more responsive to students’ needs. It was in no way a political move coordinated with D202. Evanston was extremely fortunate to host this international expert. The suggestion that D65 parents were urged to attend because of the then-upcoming 202 vote is uninformed and misguided.

      2. You must not have kids in Evanston schools

        In grades K-8, the kids don’t study the White European story much at all.

        Until kids get  to middle school, the total focus on history and historical figures was on African American History month and Hispanic History month (? Week? Can’t remember which it was).

        I don’t think my kids wrote a report about a single white historical figure in nine years of grade school. Or an Asian historical figure, for that matter.

        Lots of time was spent on the slavery/emancipation story and civil rights, but they learned nothing about Ellis Island, the holocaust, or the women’s suffrage movement.

        What they read for reading class was all over the place, and definitely not Eurocentric.

        When they finally studied history in middle school, it wasn’t Eurocentric either.

        The kids did their work regardless of whose culture it was about, so they did well in school. Doing well in school does wonders for a kid’s self-esteem.

        1. Even NU humanities focus is on non-White history/culture

           Look at the NU distribution requirements for history and literatue  The emphasis is on non-European, non-White history and culture.  Little wonder the K-12 emphasis in Evanston is to do the same.


          1. AP Classes

            I’m glad the levels before AP aren’t Eurocentric/Western Civ-esque, because the AP classes certainly are.

            I took APs in World History, US History, and European History, among others. There is no Indian History AP or Chinese Literature AP or Arabic AP or Brazilian History AP, any of which would be fascinating beyond belief. The closest we have is Chinese Language & Culture and Japanese Language & Culture, only one of which is offered at ETHS. 

            Humanities, as a class, is about Western lit and Western history. US History at any level is obviously Western. Journalism. Latin. English (required all four years). French & Spanish. Smart Lab classes. Economics. Logic. Drama. Even our Physics and Chemistry classes are Western, because most of the scientific advances we read about are Western.

            I have written analyses/biographies/book reports on Babe Ruth, General Winfield Scott, Leonardo Da Vinci, the Schlieffen Plan, Macbeth, the consequences of American hegemony (junior research paper),and the Crimean War, to name a few. The emphasis on Western culture is obvious, and not a problem. 

            One of my favorite books of all time, which I was exposed to in a sophmore honors English class which focused on African-American and black culture, is The Awakening by Kate Chopin, a fin de siecle white lady. We read Hemingway, Shakespeare, Vonnegut. 

            Don’t buy into the hype. I was on the Evanstonian staff when Rush Limbaugh said that ETHS students were too multi-cultural in their education and "probably don’t know who Adolf Hitler was". He’s an idiot. Don’t be like him. Of course we know who Adolf Hitler is, and I’m glad we can understand Amy Tan and Richard Wright and know the history of Timbuktu’s empire and the racial divisions in South American societies. Learning is not zero-sum, one fact does not directly replace another.

          2. Mr Sorenson, you appear to

            Mr Sorenson, you appear to have received an excellent education.

  11. Thanks Mindy

    For the tip on Ellen Morgan.

    You mentioned " why  do I have to let my kid be bored in high school (after years of boredom and frustration in middle school) because I am "able to provide [my] child more family stability and opportunites outside the classroom."    

    At any given time, high achievers will be bored.  Low achievers are bored.  Teachers are bored.  Sometimes I get bored at work.  Or at home. Or with my marriage.  But that doesn’t mean the institutions are not successful.

    And I’d love to provide every kid exactly what they need, but we don’t have the  money  or answers to do that.  As someone else commented,  there will always be under-achievers, and the poor.  And dysfunctional families.  Hard to fix all that.

    This ever growing gap is going to be an economic concern for our children in the future as they will have to support this group..  We need all the kids to graduate with a promise for college or an opportunity for a job.  I think we have to look past the needs of just "our" kids to accomplish that. 

    Let’s give it a try.  It may just work.  And the kids could be fine and like it too.  



    1. Oops, I used the “B” word

      Silly me, I forgot that I am never supposed to say my kids are "bored" in school. That instantly starts someone saying, "What’s wrong with that…" or "It’s their fault…" If I say, "They aren’t actually being taught anything new or challenging or interesting or worthwhile" would that be better?

      I still don’t see why this is being positioned as a zero sum game. "Our" children have to take a back seat so that "their" children can have more opportunities? Who is this "we" and who are "they"? White and black? Rich and poor? Two-parent families vs. one-parent families?

      There are many ways to help students at all educational levels that doesn’t involve putting them all into one classroom. There is plenty of research to show that allowing kids to move ahead at a faster pace is very effective. Why do we need age-stratification in classrooms, particularly at the high school level? Why not let the high achieving freshman move ahead? We have mixed age classrooms for foreign languages, math, and the arts, why should humanities classes be different?

      There is also plenty of evidence, at ETHS, in D65 and nationally that there are plenty of resources being spent on struggling students. NCLB more or less requires it. I don’t think this is a question of resources, it’s a question of whether we’re applying those resources correctly. (And if you can really fix in a year or four years a problem that was nine or more years in the making.)

      See this report: High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB

      I think there are many more approaches and strategies to increase achievement for all students that could have been considered by ETHS and that they chose an option that is liable to have unfortunate consequences for kids across the achievement spectrum. 

      As I suggested to the board, if the tracks are too rigid or the placement mechanism is flawed, change how you move kids from track to track and re-examine the placement process. The problem was not with tracking, it was how tracking was implemented. So change the implementation.

    2. Well Said…

      I like your positive comment Ms. Kelly.  While I understand folks want the best for their kids, I think people are really overreacting to these changes.  I think we have to keep in mind that ETHS has always had very high standards.  Honors and AP curricula at other H.S. are not the same– even with standardized testing.  During my husbands H.S. years he was mostly in AP classes.  For about a semester of his Jr year he went to live with his father down South.  He tested out of Jr year honors and was placed in Sr year honors classes (they didn’t even have an AP program) and it was still too easy. 

      I think we need to keep in mind the standards are not being lowered for anyone.  They are being raised, which credible research shows is a very viable way to get marginalized kids to perform– and not to the detriment of the higher achievers.  The teachers are not just having this plan plopped in their lap with a pat on the back for good luck.  There is an amazing and innovative rubric for how they will do this and an incredible amount of  support available to them.  This is a well-thought out plan, a long time in the making.  Other districts are looking to ours because they see the potential for their own students.  Evanston is a unique and progressive community.  I think we need to come together on this one for the sake of everyones’ children.  The growing gap, as Ms. Kelly says,  is something that effects us all.

      1. What it really takes to get ahead—minorities can win

        Below is a link to an interesting experiment done at U.California Berkeley to see why black students were not succeeding in in calculus at the rate other students were.  It was assumed from the beginning that they were just as capable [you don’t get into Berkeley otherwise].  In short, the experiment showed black students tried to study on their own instead of testing each other [interesting NYT article 1/21/11 on study methods confirming value of testing].  The calculus course was made HARDER so that they HAD to study together to pass—and low and behold they not only passed but it became the section all hard working students wanted to take. http://vccslitonline.vccs.edu/mrcte/treisman.htm

        Contrary to Evanston schools assuming minorities can’t handle the work, the study shows students can succeed and are just not pushed to succeed.

        1. Who are the students really

          North shore resident like Evanston want to say this should be a bedroom community with good schools which costs money but then turn around and say we need more money for the schools because of all the poor and socially disadvantaged children.  You can't have it both ways.  Evanston is in fact more an extension of Chicago when it comes to problems.  Yes we have middle and upper class areas [at least until city and school taxes drive those people out] but the north shore mentality makes excuses for why so many students fail and/or drop out—back to the old "they can't really succeed without white man's guilt."

          We need to replace or at least fund per student at the same level charter schools so we can get back to some sanity in the schools and stop making excuses.  If we keep the public schools, allow students to pick the public or private or charter and the public school funding per student goes with the student.

  12. I may have changed my mind on this

    My kid is a high school freshman. Last year, he scored in the 100% on the reading portion of the EXPLORE test and would have been in the freshman humanities honors course. He took the 9th grade EXPLORE test last fall and I just got the results–he scored in the 78%.  Since he has always scored in the 90’s in standardized tests, I was really surprised. I saw that he missed four questions out of 30!   It made me realize that this test should not be the sole basis of admission to the program. I’m not against a freshman honors class, but admission by one test result no longer seems valid to me.

      1. What Does ETHS Really Teach ?

        Since ETHS does not seem to be willing to detail on their Web site or elsewhere that I could find, perhaps someone knows what the requirements are through the Senior year.  I have listed several areas and some questions about the requirement in these area.  Some of my examples may seem arbitrary but are listed for comparative standards.

        Required (i.e. are these required by all students]: Two years algebra, one year Trig./Analytic Geometry, one year Geometry
        Available: Calculus [single and multiple], Linear Algebra, Differential  Equations, Other ?

        Required: One year Physics,  one year Chemistry
        Other: Astronomy, Geology, Other ?

        Required: Books at level of 'War and Peace', 'Crime and Punishment', 'Brothers Karamazov', 'Remembrance of Things Past Remembrance of Things Past', novels of Henry James, ten Shakespeare plays,

        Required: One year of Ancient/Medieval, one year U.S., one year Europe from 1500 to present, Asian

        Required—Academic: Two years of at least two of Latin, German*, French*, Classical Greek
        Modern: Russian* or Chinese*
        *For non-native speakers

        Government, Political Science, Economics
        Required: One year, two years preferred.

        1. Graduation requirements are available in the Pro

          ETHS has a Course Selection Guide available for anyone to read on the website. They're not hiding it. And, exploring a little further, you'll find the variety of courses available. 

          The graduation requirements can be found on page 5. Additionally, it spells out what you should do if you are planning to go to college/university.


      2. Really Honors ?

        A story from pioneerlocal says:

        "To be eligible for honors credit, a student also must earn a C or higher on the semester exam and a C or higher for the course grade."

        A 'C' is hardly an 'honors' grade.  It should always have required an 'A' and since grade inflation is everywhere, the standard should not be lowered.

        This sounds like where parents in schools all demand their kids be in 'gifted' classes—-sometimes the requests would mean 50% + would be labeled 'gifted' even with test/course levels in 'C' range—or lower.

        An honors grade will mean nothing—esp. for those who actually earned it and try to claim it for college—-ETHS grades will count for nothing for any college that knows about ETHS policy.

      3. ETHS—–> College

        The Chicago Trib. ffront page article Aug. 31 is about GPA between senior year of HS and freshman year at college.  Drops were significant.  Even New Trier GPAs dripped    And most [if not all the colleges were public not NU, UofC, MIT,  etc..

        Yes there are other factors, like having to make more decisions, freer social life, etc.  but these probably don't account for a lot of it.  Inflated H.S. grades, honors and AP courses that give a false sense of knowledge, parents and other telling their little princesses and princes that they are 'far above average' and so special that the world is there for them to take [or rather placed in their laps.

        It would be interesting to see similar stats for ETHS—>college scores.'

      4. Joint high school/college program–for drop-outs

        News Hour program about a high school that used joint high school/college courses to brring back drop outs.


        What within/exterior to ETHS college courses are provided by ETHS.


        I'm sure Oakton is a good junior college but when I look at the class schedule they drop-off, it seems the branch on Lincoln does not provide much and the main campus is so far away I would imagine it very difficult for ETHS students to get there.

        Has Evanston ever considered making Chicago City Colleges its 'community college' ?  Would Chicago be interested ? Is it even 'legal' to do so ?

        Maybe I'm forgetting a school, but it seems NU [very expensive]; North Park, Loyola, DePaul, Roosevelt  [expensive and substantial travel]; Northeastern, UIC [substantial travel time]; are the only viable options to Oakton.  O.k. a number of alternatives but most expensive to take 'regular' classes vrs. a program ETHS might be able to workout.

    1. Brightest Stall, Low Achievers Gain


      'Brightest Stall, Low Achievers Gain; Some Say Top Students Need Attention Given to Weaker Performers, as Smart Kids' Scores Barely Move'

      "…brightest young minds behind, prompting calls to rethink how schools teach top kids…."

      Wall Street Journal story Nov. 12,2011 p.A3

      1. ETHS for Six Years ?

        The New York Times 10/22/12 has an interesting article [see link below].

        What about ETHS expanding their program to also cover the first two years of college—a junior college education.  In fact bright students even technically juniors or seniors could be taking college level courses and getting college level credit.

        This is not a no-brainer but could have some definite benefits.

        Lower cost for their 'core' first two years of college.

        Reduce the fights over tracking and mixed/honors classes since students could take college courses if they find the current offering is not complete.

        Greatly expand ETHS reputation as a school where  truely 'higner education' is possible.

        Whether the current staff could teach the junior level courses would have to be decided but I would assume some would be able and hiring extra faculty could be done.  Probably some faculty are already doing so with the brightest and highly motivated students.   However to be fair to the 'high school' program and taxpayers; and cover additional costs—faculty, classrooms (current sufficient ?), there may have to be modest tuition charges but hopefully the costs could be below even Oakton's charges.


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.