Administrators at Evanston Township High School pulled out all the stops last night to teach the community about the merits of its proposed restructuring of Freshman Humanities Honors, due to take effect with the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

Administrators at Evanston Township High School pulled out all the stops last night to teach the community about the merits of its proposed restructuring of Freshman Humanities Honors, due to take effect with the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

The venue was a special meeting of the District 202 Board of Education, with the restructuring proposal as the only item on the agenda. Typically this means cramming everyone into a classroom in the North Wing of the high school and allowing public attendees three minutes each to make comments with no response from administration or board.

Last night was different. The meeting was held, town-meeting style, in the school auditorium, where about 200 attendees had plenty of room to spread out and stash their rain gear. Four microphones were available for the public either to make comments or ask questions, to which the administration was more than willing to respond. The board sat on the sidelines and watched the proceedings.

But first, a panel of educational experts extolled the benefits of the proposed program, whereby all but about 50 slow readers are taught the Honors Humanities curriculum, enabling any student to work hard enough to obtain Honors credit, which adds half a point to the score when computing grade point averages.

This would replace the current system, where an elite group of top students, almost all of Caucasian ethnicity, are selected while still in middle school, to enroll in an all-Honors classroom, putting them on track for Honors and Advance Placement courses in their future high school years.

The expert team included Harrington V. Gibson, Ted Purinton, Richard Streedain and Catherin Weidner.

Gibson’s credentials include Northwestern University and Harvard, including research into instructional approaches proven to be successful with black male students. Purinton is chair and assistant professor of the Department of Educational Leadership at National-Louis University. Streedain is a professor of educational leadership at National- Louis. Weidner is a professor at Lake Forest College and the parent of an ETHS student.

In the previous two board meetings where this restructuring was discussed, the public comment had elicited a number of concerns that were addressed Monday night by the panel. District Superintendent Eric Witherspoon set the tone with a rationale for the restructuring. In the current system, he said, students are tested and then “sorted and labeled” before they get to ETHS and are assigned to classes.

“That sorting and labeling is not working,” he declared. “If it locks out students so that they can never experience this high-powered school,” he added, “then we’re not doing our job.” The new program gives ETHS an opportunity to do something “really profound” with our students, he insisted. “We will finally be a school that does not put lids on its students.”

Gibson, a former teacher at Walker School in Evanston who has done research on tracking, said that tracking contradicts the principles upon which American schools were founded. “Students rise to their expectations and fall to their expectations,” he said, while the restructuring raises the expectations of all students

Purinton insisted that the proposal “is a bold initiative that will receive national attention among colleges.” He told parents that college admissions officers are most interested in how far a student goes to differentiate himself from other students in the school. “My guess is that more students will be accepted at high-profile schools as a result of this program,” he said.

Streedain said schools ought to teach for understanding and teach for diversity, while Wagner said that tracking of students, which started in the United States in 1920, was based on the false assumption that intelligence was fixed, while research today indicates that many factors are indicative of one’s academic performance. Among those factors, she said, is the ability to work with persons of many abilities as well as cross-racial understanding.

She concluded that “if any school can tackle the issue of racial inequity, this is the school.”

When the comment period began, of the 35 persons making comments, the majority, including some teachers and students, were positive about the program.
When a parent suggested the school run a pilot program, which was a popular suggestion at the previous board meeting, Witherspoon countered that “we’ve had 127 years to get it right. We know what happens when you give students high expectations.”

Bruce Mitchell, a popular English teacher at the school for 32 years, now retired, said: “This is a courageous undertaking. It is multi-cultured, open, and interconnected.”

Comments that could be considered negative about the program concerned the ability of teachers to differentiate the needs of students in a class with a wide range of academic ability and questioned how rigorously the administration would evaluate the results of the restructuring. Some of these commenters recommended a go-slow process, rather than instituting the program in 2011. One suggested the establishment of an outside advisory group as part of the evaluation process.

A vote on the proposal is scheduled for the December 13 meeting of the board.

Video of the meeting is available online.

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...

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  1. Mediocrity. Equity. One School.

    "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." — Albert Einstein

    There’s only one problem. We detracked in the grade schools and it hasn’t worked. For most students in the high schools, it won’t work either.

    Yes, the grade schools have shown improvement on ISAT scores. Grade school teachers and administrators have figured out how to teach to those specific tests, and that’s exactly what they do. Unfortunately, the ISAT is such an easy test that doing well on it is meaningless. Kids aren’t where they need to be to do honors work. The high school itself has said that many can’t catch up in time to pass their high-stakes high school exams.

    About a third of the kids in each grade school room are bored out of their minds for nine years in grade school. They spin wheels for nine years while the teachers tend to kids who are academically behind or won’t behave in class. Now you tell them they get more of the same when they get to high school? Nine years of this has not brought up the bottom. Four more years won’t do it either.

    These proposed catch-all Freshman Humanities classes will not maintain the level of quality in the current straight honors classes. The pace will be slower, the expectations will be lower, and the classes will inevitably be dragged down by those who don’t care, don’t have the ability or don’t behave — and those kinds of kids come from all races and economic backgrounds.

    Evanston kids will get four more years of "equity." But many will have an opportunity for excellence taken away from them.

    Virtually all students at ETHS already have the opportunity to take a mixed-honors Freshman Humanities class, and opt for honors credit.  So ETHS is not doing anything new to benefit the great middle of the bell curve. Nothing’s really being added for them. The school is simply subtracting an opportunity for bright students of all races who have historically been denied education appropriate to their abilities in grade school.

    ETHS is slamming the door on these kids, again.


    1. disagree with your comments on d 65

      I have three kids in the district and spend a lot of time in the schools.  A third of the kids bored out of their minds?  I don’t think so.  We are fortunate to have talented and committed teachers who work to challenge our kids academically, socially and emotionally. 

      1. Inaccuracy corrected

        You’re right. I exagerrated. It’s not a third of the kids in grade school who are bored.

        25% of eighth graders in Evanston schools score in or above the 95th percentile on EXPLORE. So 25 percent of children in our grade schools are bored. Or, if you prefer, you could say that 25 percent of the children in our grade schools are under-served. These students are served well by the current straight honors Freshman Humanities class. They will not be served well by the proposed catch-all Freshman humanities class.

        Naturally, that means 75% of the children in our grade schools are well-served, as you feel your children are. I also spent a lot of time in our grade school. I’d say 25% at the top who are underserved sounds about right.

        Apparently the high school (or someone speaking on the high school’s behalf) now describes these children as "anointed", "entitiled" and "thinking they are smarter than they are.” Of course. If everything comes easily during nine years of schooling, a kid’s will think he’s brilliant. These kids need to hit their limit, and learn how to work through that. Our high school now wants to change things for these children so everything comes easily for 13 years of schooling. Let them hit the wall when they apply to college. Or let them hit the wall freshman year of college. Whatever you do, don’t acknowledge their talents.

        Again, 25 percent of children in our grade schools are bored, not 33 percent. Exactly what percentage would be acceptable to this community?


        1. Ouch…

          I can’t help but feel your bitterness and pain. I’m sorry you feel this way.

          I highly suggest you see Carol Tomlinson speak tonite (Wednesday) at Chute about differentiated instruction. She is an authority on the subject.  Specifically she addresses the issue of meeting the needs of the ‘smart’ kid.

          Also I’m curious, how does a child spend 9 years in school, "bored",  score in the 95th percentile and  is never challenged? What is your definition of being challenged? Nothing that was done in those 9 years in D65 contributed to their success? Then what happens at the high school that turns this around?

          1. Why didn’t it contribute to everyone’s success?

            Sure, my kids learned things in school. They got exactly the same education every other grade school child in Evanston receives. 25 percent of kids who get that exact education end up at or above the 95th percentile on the EXPLORE test, so that education works in a lot of ways.

            Kids learn a lot in school, no matter what the situation.

            Here’s what happens in high school that’s great: Instead of spacing out while the teacher explains the same thing for the tenth time, the pacing is quick. You better be paying attention, because what the teacher is talking about now is not the same thing he or she has been talking about for the last week. You are in a room of peers, and the pack runs quickly. If you don’t get it, it’s on you to figure it out outside of class, because the teacher won’t keep reviewing it until everyone has it completely. (Fortunately, your peers can often help, and vice versa.) The teacher hands back your paper and says, "This is OK, but I know **you** can do better than this." Or the teacher says, "you’re going to have to make a greater effort, or else I suggest you move to the regular class instead of the honors class."

            A better question for you to ask is "if all these children received the same education, why didn’t 100 percent of them score above the 95th percentile on EXPLORE?"



          2. Differentiated Instruction

            I did see Carol present – she was fantastic and I want her as a teacher for my children.  The issue is in the execution not the concept.  Can Differentiation work – YES – does it work today in D65?  Will training and planning help – sure.  But if a child is in the top 5% there is a significant chance something will be sacrificed as it often is today in D65.

            Like it or not – tracking does happen in our society and specialists in all fields eventually chose that path (arts, humanities, science, etc) – even the panel of experts chose a specialist path and we were presented with their credentials at great length.  The question is is Freshman, or Sophomore year the right place for it and I think Freshman year is.  Fix the concern in D65 and the entry criteria to address any bias standardized testing may impose.

            One other concern, if we alienate the top 5% in our community and they chose a more tracked route but also diverse- say in Chicago –  that will also lead to a less rich environment at in the classroom at ETHS and Evanston overall. 

        2. Assumptions

          Why do you assume that if they score in the top 95% they are bored?  I know plenty of kids who excel academically yet are challanged socially, musically, artistically, etc.  And even those who excel academically are often challenged on specific academic assignments.  Certainly we don’t have a population of 25% gifted kids in this district? 

          As a child I was in that top performing group.  I attended an all white, wealthy and homogeneous school.  While I was certainly prepared academically for the ‘real world’, I feel I was underserved in other areas.  This is why I have chosen to raise my kids here.  I truly believe they will leave with a better overall education than they could get most anyplace else.  And I often hear parents with the same story as mine.

  2. Important clarifications re: ETHS proposal

    The article states that straight honors students are "almost all of Caucasian ethnicity"

    The fact is that 22.5% or 1 out of 5 straight honors students are minority. Should there be more? ABSOLUTELY Does the entire Evanston Community want to see more minority students in straight honors? ABSOLUTELY Insightful questions should be asked instead of leading statements, misinformation, and inappropriate allegations regarding the straight honors program. For example, why aren’t people asking how can District 202 better coordinate with District 65 to prepare more students, especially minority students, to be ready to take a straight honors curriculum? Why doesn’t District 202 do a better job communicating and meeting with students and minority parents when they are in 6th, 7th and 8th grade to help prepare them for honors classes? (Education doesn’t happen overnight) What characteristics do the 22.5% of minority straight honors students possess? Why are they successful and others are not? Do they take an educational vitamin every day? The administration and the board should understand the real issues before making hopeful, sweeping changes. If you don’t understand the problem how can you fix it?

    Another misperception is that straight honors is only for the top 5% of the class.

    Currently 8th grade students take the nationally administered EXPLORE Test. For those students scoring in the top 5% on a national basis, ETHS administrators have placed them into straight honors. For the ETHS student population, about 25% of the class score in the top 5%. Questions should be asked as to why does ETHS administrators only use the EXPLORE Test for placement? It’s their decision. Why don’t they use grades and test scores from 6th, 7th, & 8th grade? Why don’t they seek input from Middle School Teachers and Administrators who know the students? Why don’t they seek input from parents who can also reinforce the importance of education in the home? (For parents and guardians who won’t/don’t actively advocate for their children for numerous reasons – why isn’t the Administration being proactive with them?) Why the arbitrary 95%. Again, all of these issues are totally under the control of the administration. It is inexcusable for the administration to cite the "inappropriateness of using just one test" to place students at ETHS. Why is the Board letting the administration slide by with this poor excuse?

    Hopefully more people will engage in this critical conversation and distinguish between fact and fiction. One important fact is that for more students to earn honors credit, it will take an incredible amount of commitment and work from the students, aided by great teachers, supported by the administration, parents and the community. Just combining Mixed Level and Straight Honors classes and hoping osmosis occurs is fiction.

    I hope for the sake of ALL students that this works. I also hope the Cubs win the World Series in 2011.

    1. How bad is 22.5%?

      "The fact is that 22.5% or 1 out of 5 straight honors students are minority."

      What percentage of the ETHS student body is minority?

      It’s hard to tell if 22.5% is good or bad without knowing the ethnic distribution of the high school as a whole.

  3. Witherspoons eliminates dialogue with race.

    Monday’s meeting was a hard sales push not a community forum.

    The administration has continued to make is strong emotional argument – that detracking the high school – starting 2 years ago with Humanities – is the morally right thing to do.   

    Dr. Witherspoon makes this argument through the lens of race.   Monday he lined up a panel of speakers and staff /teachers to speak to the social opportunity as well as generations of injustice that now needed to be corrected.   This sensitivity to racial injustice  has been magnified through the work done by the Pacific Education Group.   Their work helps us to identify institutional racism everywhere.   And so we are.   Witherspoon and the Board  have started to define our success at this large high school, more by it’s efforts to achieve some social justice rather than the academic achievement of all children regardless of race.


    In the administrations efforts to identify institutional racism, they’ve begun to articulate the prejudice against another group of children – a prejudice determined by the color of their skin.   


    Anoited, malpractice ‘ entitiled ‘ thinking they are smarter than they are” – these are terms used to describe kids – just kids.   Do we assume that kids entering the door are spoiled and overrated simply because of the color of their skin?   Do we need to eliminate a successful program – because it’s students have the wrong skin color?  "These kids will be fine" the staff keeps telling us.   Is our responsibility to them less?


    Time and time again on Monday – it was stated that an opposition to this plan could only be an opposition to equality in race.   Given that no one I know is opposed to equal opportunity in education – how could you speak in opposition!  YOU CAN’T!   But that was the intent.  No dialogue desired.


    Somehow the racial imbalance in honors is seen as a manipulation of European Americans to segregate themselves – that they are avoiding and fearful of a racially diverse class???   Currently over 22% of kids in honors are African American / Hispanic –   instead of opening up honors, working to balance the racial makeup, they’ve decided to shut it down, primarily because of the color of students’ skin.


    In searching through the Minority Student Achievement Network – looking at schools who are experiencing successes – one thing stood out.   They defined themselves by their achievements –   Scholarship dollars recieved by their graduates / National Merit Scholars / Developing IB programs.   One had to dig around to find out the racial / socio-economic breakdown of the students.    That’s not to say these schools weren’t putting great efforts and attention to raising achievement for all students.   They were, and  you could see it in the programs and progress of all students.   But for these schools,  achievement defines these schools – not race.   


    Dr. Witherspoon is talking about revolution.   He wants to make bold changes.   Something needs to be done today.   No one can argue with the need to change, but we can certainly argue with the best way to ensure success.   Given that most schools that are seeing success start WELL before High School – it was disappointing to have Dr. Witherspoon shy away from D65.   


    High expectations, quality staffing, support and training in Differentiated Instruction, heterogeneous classes – this is what the all kids have in D65, yet it’s not producing enough non white kids who qualify for honors, so 202 is eliminating the program.   If we did have a racially balanced honors program and if D65 was effective in their efforts to accelerate learning, would we even be talking about detracking?


    If this town is serious – why aren’t we proposing something radical in the elementary years?  Why aren’t we talking about combining districts?   Maybe then we’d get contested school board elections and there would be some accountability?     Why does the High School think proposing the same offer the kids have had for years at D65 is going to end in different results?  Why are we so eager to move forward without completing the study when the initial results look bad?   


    None of these questions  – and many many more, could not be asked Monday night.   How could you?   The meeting was about race – not achievement – and asking questions implied you weren’t for social equity – which isn’t the case at all.   



    1. Social Justice

      The business of public education IS social justice.  Look at Robert Moses and The Algebra Project.

  4. Time to consolidate the two districts

    Several years ago when Dr. Witherspoon was talking about threatened NCLB remedies he noted that one possible response to failing to meet standards would be to dismantle the school and he knew no one wanted that. 

    Well for many students, parents and taxpayers he IS dismantaling the college prep aspect of the school.

    Many have noted that while D65 argues it has very high standards for all students not enough students from lower income families or racial/ethnic minorities are identified for straight honors, but somehow D202 does not see this as the crux of the problem.

    Now is the time to consolidate.  No more finger pointing.  Real, measurable high expectations at D65, coordination between elementary and high school, and perhaps a board that spends it time focused on college readiness for all children.

  5. Wow… Welcome to ETHS.

    I wish that the opposing comments/questions HAD all been that logical or that any of those suggestions were not so desperately redundant.  I went as the parent of an incoming 8th grader, intrigued and excited about the new proposal.  Cutting edge.  Truly transformative…
    As I sat through this meeting and attempt to sit through these comments with as an objective a mind as possible to the thick, blinding fog of defensiveness, the group of parents that I have the privilege of knowing is asking… what isn’t going to work?  What results do you fear?  Status quo?  Or…are you actually fearing that your children cannot live up to the standards of true accountability versus systematic ghettoization?  Are you afraid that your students are not going to make it to college because they have to sit next to mine in class?  Come on, don’t YOU be disingenuous.  Are you afraid that the challenges you mention to change will reveal a flaw in our educational system, maybe even our society?  Um… let us, as you state, do the research.  And let me go ahead and restate the obvious: we have flaws in our educational system (and society).  And they need to change now.  Not tomorrow like we’ve always had to accept.  Not later with extensive scientific research.  The research is done, both empirical and experiential.  The results have been highly and, quite frankly, embarrassingly reported at an international scale.  And please note that the low standards and achievements in education in this country are by far not limited to the "low testing" and/or "low achievements" of African American and Latino children.  It is the humiliating ignorance and cultural/linguistic illiteracy that we have accepted and obviously continue to defend that at the end of the day ends up in higher education and then our society. Yes, the privileged. So, you see, nobody wins in segregation or… in the bell curve.  Eek.  I thought that thought had gone out with Formica.  I’m afraid that those are retro models that we can no longer tolerate.
    If your children have been so fortunate as to stand on the positive end of that system– fantastic and and/or historical.  I truly hope that the same fortune befalls them far beyond their high school years.  But the truth is that this isn’t a guarantee, is it?  With or without Honors credit.  In real life, your Honors child (and my hardworking high achieving child of color) may have to find his/her own way.  Your child’s greatest hope might lay in the fact that this still isn’t an even field either, is it?  Why?  Because, sadly, our children– segregated and indoctrinated– often become an image of ourselves.  You speak for them now, like I saw people speaking "for" their children at this meeting.  They’ll eventually echo you.  You teach them that their intellect is superior; not just good or even great but SUPERIOR and that the very presence of anything that is not up to the standard, defined by you, is damaging.  Someone even asked, "Will we get to visit the classes?"  Answer:  (Insert horrified teenage scream) No.  What high schooler wants their parent stalking them in their classroom?  To look at what, pray tell?  This would be a scary thought if we as people of color were not equally accustomed, historically, to this type of suspicion and scrutiny.  I got the nagging sense that the observation would be of the "not so Honors students" and how they act.  Or the raging liberal teachers who care about "social justice."  What?  Stop.  Just stop judging our children according to the rules that your forefathers created to benefit them and you.  They don’t work for us.  Stop trying to halt progress.  It’s coming and it looks like we finally have a system that isn’t afraid of the more often louder resistance.  At the end of the day, the loud, squeaky wheel only becomes annoying– to all of us who like efficient problem solving–  young, old, liberal, moderate, conservative, Black, White, Brown.   I wonder how many of the opposing parents bothered (without inserting their thoughts) to ask their children what type of classroom environment they prefer?  You did?  They agreed with you?  Great.  I asked mine too.  They disagreed with you.
    I can certainly say more but what is the point?  I do agree with one thing I’ve heard from those opposing:  this wasn’t a dialogue. It wasn’t a dialogue in the Reconstruction era.  It wasn’t even a dialogue after the Civil Rights Movement.  It isn’t a dialogue now.  We also heard rhetorical lists from the opposition, strange medical data, Sports predictions, random percentages about the degree of acceptable failures, victories and all kinds of hysteria.  People will stop at nothing to protect group privilege.  I can understand that.  How?  Well, because I have access to it.  I earned it and I have to re-dig my spot in it every single day.  For me, as a Latina professional, I actually have to exceed every single expectation to prove that I’m worthy of my degree, my salary and even my opinion in rooms full of white people. In fact, you can ask your minority friends.  Most of us have experienced this most of our lives. 
    My daughter, who hears from me as often as possible how bright and amazing the future is for her, already shares similar stories.  The only one.  The representative of the race.  The ignorant comments.  The invisibility.  So, I have to add a caveat to every promise– don’t expect or take for granted the accolades and recognitions. That is not the measure of your success.  You just have to keep working extra hard.  Ignore all labels– you’ll get many.  
    Ironically, my daughter would likely get placed in some "Straight Honors" (versus… twisted?) classes when she starts at ETHS next year.  Hopefully, she’ll walk instead into more integrated classes where she will learn from her teachers and her classmates and they will be able to gain from her knowledge and experiences as well.  Because all of it is education that they need.  Congratulations to the bold, hardworking superintendent, administrators and faculty who have worked on this reform. I’m glad I went to the meetings to learn about ETHS and I’m glad I ran into these troubling perspectives.  Keeps it all in perspective.   Good luck in the path toward change.  You’ll need it for change does not roll on the wheels of inevitability.
    1. Well said

      As a white parent, many around me assume what side of this arguement I’m on and they couldn’t be more wrong.  I am proud of  the courage that ETHS is showing.  This is the future, people, and your smart (often socially isolated) kids may actually learn something from their new classmates that they can’t get out of a book – especially in a Humanities class. 

      I can’t help but envision the same discussions going on across the country during desegregation.  Especially when I hear the "we’ll just go to private school" thing.  I have no doubt that our community will come out ahead on the other side of this controversy.

      Thanks for speaking out.

      1. The classmates won’t be “new”

        You forget, what is being proposed is already the status quo for District 65. In that sense, this isn’t the "future," it’s the past … continuing the failing approach of the elementary and middle-school levels.

        1. Disagree

          I don’t think district 65 is failing. 

          Actually I’m very pleased with the education my children are getting.

    2. Welcome to festering hate at ETHS

      You have it backward, and quite frankly, your rant is disturbing.

      First, there is no segregation in the AP honors classes – there are minorities enrolled in them.

      Second, the data of this new detracking or differentiation program is incomplete and the results so far uncertain. Whereas, testing is a historically proven model to determine if students can handle more challenging higher level academics. Competition brings out the best. Trying to make academics equal ignores the different abilities and buries the more competent into mediocrity. Just look at Europe – a small portion of the high school student body that scores highest on tests get to go to college for free – COMPETITION!. The carrot – free college.

      Third, it is insulting and racist to write that [white parents] "teach [their kids] that their intellect is superior; not just good or even great but SUPERIOR." How do you even know this, and superior to whom?  As  a "Latina professional," you just showed your racist stripes.

      Fourth, what in the world do you mean when you say "Just stop judging our children according to the rules that your forefathers created to benefit them and you." Or, " People will stop at nothing to protect group privilege." You also throw in attributes to the Reconstruction era and the Civil Rights movement.

      I’ve got news for you, you are no more a victim than any white parent. You want to see victims spend an hour in a cancer ward of any children’s hospital. And skin color has nothing to do with privilege. 

      There’s a saying that people mirror their beliefs in the guise of accusing others of the same offense. In other words, you’re the one hung up on superiority, group privilege and us vs. them based on race. 

      I am sure your song and dance would be a whole lot different if D202 were to enact a policy to eliminate some program because it had too many minorities, which I would oppose such a policy. Racial quotas in education is unacceptable and probably even illegal.

      One can argue that minorities who enjoy special protections under the law and who benefit from affirmative action and racial quota policies are privileged. Even recent U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor publicly said she was "an affirmative action baby."

      Your kind of mindset is what divides communities. I understand there was an advanced minority student  who spoke to the D202 Board and administrators, complaining that all this talk of detracking because there are too many white students is demeaning to hard-working minority students. And what this student said flies in the face of what you claim your daughter tells you.

      In any event, all Evanston parents should organize, select board candidates and vote the current board members off the D202 School Board. 

      Then the first order of business would be to fire Witherspoon and his staff, and at the same time, stand up and challenge the spewing, spuming and sputtering division spread by people hung up on a us vs. them mentality.

      United we stand, divided we fall.

    3. The race and class privilege issue is a red herring.

      It’s not about race. It’s not about class privilege. It’s about ALL kids — yes, even the ones who are high-performing — being challenged at appropriate levels.

      Equality in education doesn’t mean that everyone literally has the same experiences in the classroom. It means that ALL learners will have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Some kids need more support, more encouragement, more attention from teachers to move ahead. Others are reading years beyond their grade level and need to work with more complex material.

      All kids need to be in a classroom setting where they are pushed at the optimum level — not underchallenged, not overchallenged, but appropriately. How can one teacher do that for a couple dozen kids at the same time? We’ve been doing that in District 65 and I think we all can see how well that’s worked.

      So when you talk about diversity in the classroom, can you please leave race out of it? Because the real argument is about academic diversity, not racial diversity. The real question is, how effective are mixed-ability classrooms? And who’s being disenfranchised when we say that all kids can be well served through one identical educational experience?


  6. a quarter century of fighting the beast called tracking

    22 years ago when my eldest child began kindergarten, Dawes, the school he was going to attend, had just eliminated a special program for exceptional students. As I recall there were only ten or twelve kids in the class but it was considered elitist and had to go.

    Tracking was a dirty word then and it remains so today. From that time to this I have lost track of all the plans and programs where tracking was the enemy.

    From what I gather from Charles Bartling’s report – apparently accurate in that no one has disputed it, the current administration is presenting their plan as if there were no history of opposition to tracking and something brand new is on offer. I have to admit that "putting a lid on our students" is a new catchphrase but I have heard so many, many before.

    I have no children in the schools now so I can easily be ignored but since I still support the schools with my taxes and have just purchased a new home in Evanston pledging more to come, I have a request.

    Can both District 65 and 202 compile for the public a list and timeline of the initiatives that have been taken in the last quarter century that address "the gap", what the outcome was of each in reducing the gap and if these initiatives remain in effect?

    If memory serves, the Evanston Roundtable published an excellent and detailed report on the gap within the last year or so and it showed essentially no change from when it was first measured. Correct me if that is not the case.

    As for challenging students, let me use my daughter as an example. Starting Spanish in District 65, she continued to study it at ETHS and became a Spanish major in college. She now lives in Cuzco, Peru and teaches English to five classes of adult Peruvians. It’s safe to say she has mastered Spanish.

    Not long ago I asked her to reflect on her education in her field. She told me that her Spanish instruction effectively began at ETHS – the years in District 65 were a waste of time and she learned nothing there. Time was spent watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles, for example, and English, not Spanish, was spoken in class. Her mother and I did all we could at the time to get her put in more demanding Spanish classes, and, though we were were able to get her moved, the result was nil. One of her teachers was the director of the district’s Spanish department.

    Things may have changed, I hope so. My point is that educators have been battling tracking now for a long, long time while education has, at least in my daughter’s case with Spanish, been left to flounder. ETHS was a pure joy for both her and us with exceptional teaching and challenging classes. I can honestly say we loved going to parent-teacher conferences just to meet the pros that made up the faculty without exception.

    So I read with dismay of the anti-tracking drive spreading to ETHS. Self appointment as the protector of the underdog and the hammer of racism has to give a sense of purpose and resolve, but what became of the efforts of such folks in years past and what of education in itself?

    1. Witherspoon ducks THE question of the evening

      I just finished watching the entire special district 202 board meeting on de-tracking freshman humanities. It’s in twelve parts on YouTube. If you have little time but want a flavor of the event, watch part 8.

      But I believe the most important part of the evening occurred in part 10, 3:40 in, when a question for Dr. Witherspoon was read from an index card. It was this…

      "Students in District 65 middle schools are heterogeneously grouped for English and History. If this system is so effective, why is there such a skill and achievement gap among the incoming freshmen students coming into ETHS?"

      Witherspoon: "I don’t know that I am really going to answer that because I do not have enough knowledge about…and I am certainly not going to stand here and tell District 65 how to do their business."

      He then went on to stress that this plan for ETHS is for high school, as if education in the two districts is not still education. There were also some remarks about working with district 65 just as we’ve been hearing for many years. Faced with a clear question about the effectiveness of de-tracking and the clear evidence that it has done little to nothing to lessen the gap, the superintendent ducks the question to get on to calling for more of the same program.

      Witherspoon missed his calling not being an evangelical preacher, but what I found most disturbing was his inference that this plan is salvation, addressing problems as if he were starting from scratch to correct terrible injustice. Having seen the great work that Allen Alson did at ETHS when my kids were students there, this moral grandstanding is outrageous.

      The meeting was interesting because it required the academics to both laud the high school and at the same time damn it for not doing enough (please see my comments earlier about schools being punching bags). We were told by expert Dr. Stredain (sp?) that ETHS is at the forefront of high schools in the U.S. in teacher training, yet his fellow experts said ETHS teachers needed much more training, not in subject matter but in diversity/differentiation teaching.

      The audience was told that admissions officers at colleges and universities aren’t really that interested in grades or classes but rather how much a student advanced relative to his/her peers (uh-oh, that implies…competition!). I got the feeling that the entire group on stage felt that grades are almost useless, and getting along with others and learning from their experiences was the highest goal of a high school education. Test scores were reviled. The expert from Lake Forest College praised having no grades at all. What does she teach? A civil rights seminar and history of education.

      People wake up! These are not the classes, nor are any of the humanities classes, the subject areas in demand! That’s the only reason I see no harm in Witherspoon’s Wizardry.

      Those who asked questions were often either teachers begging for de-tracking or graduates telling of how terribly they were treated while attending ETHS, their lives essentially taken from them by un-caring teachers and tracking. Praise for Dr. Witherspoon was general. There was moving testimony, but none of it proof that de-tracking makes a difference in the gap. The proof should have become clear in District 65 years ago, but it hasn’t. Maybe I’m wrong…can evidence be produced, please?

      So what should be done? I don’t see any real danger from this initial effort. There’s little to lose. The problem will come when this de-tracking moves to the sciences and math. There a clear barrier must be erected to protect those fields of study.

      Why do I say this? I know a young woman who grew up in France, though she is from Africa. I sat down with her at a table one time and we talked for quite a while about education. She told me she could not believe the difference between France and the U.S. when it came to high school. After a French education for several years, she found American classes incredibly easy and un-challenging. She said the French teachers were demanding and you had no excuses, you had to succeed. Kids could be thrown out of school if the teacher got fed up with them and parents were always eager to do as a teacher asked of them for fear their child would suffer if they didn’t. Come to class prepared or don’t come.

      Is that the ideal education? Clearly not. But what is the world demanding of those coming out of school? It is demanding specific knowledge and a proven ability to succeed in a competitive environment, which is business. Service industries might want inter-personal relationship skills primarily but most will want ambitious, literate, numerate and hard working employees. Getting along with others is not a rare quality. Superior achievement in challenging subject matter, is.

      We know from many surveys that the United States is falling ever further behind other countries – China, Japan, Finland, Sweden, and on and on. We are moving toward what used to be called the "third world".

      Students who arrive at high school unprepared need direct intervention with concentration on their needs, not careful arrangements of students for correct skin-color mixing (who is the judge, what is the correct ratio?). U.S. schools are delaying competion and challenge later and later into the K12 sequence. But trying to make everyone feel good is easier to accomplish and the number of white and black faces in a classroom easily and painlessly measured.

      There was ONE student who spoke at the meeting. That student said – leave things alone. The one and only thing needed in any student, black or white, is what Jaime Escalante called "ganas", and he proved it with his class of aimless kids who became scholars every one. Ganas is the will to do what needs to be done, the will to win. It comes from a combination (in order of importance) of parental encouragement and example, peer pressure and demanding teachers. It doesn’t come from trying to erase the un-erasable fear that other students of whatever color might be better than you at learning a subject. It is all about what is in YOU and not about how you view others.

      This measure will pass, as I have never seen a more powerful full-court press. Reverend, I mean Dr. Witherspoon does know how to sell, doing his work for the board instead of the Lord. As for the students, it won’t hurt, but it won’t help because District 65 has failed with years of doing it at even more critical ages. Witherspoon’s effort screams to us that the teachers and programs of District 65 have failed miserably, but he won’t speak to that and Evanston will continue with two separate districts.





      1. Looking at what works

        If our savants in the educational oligopoly would travel down to Englewood they could observe what works as described in yesterday’s WSJ.

        It is one of the Urban prep schools. "At the group’s first campus in gang-infested Englewood, 80% of the 150 incoming freshman read at a sixth-grade level or below. Four years later in 2010, 107 graduated from the school and all were accepted to four-year colleges. Three of the other students were expelled and the rest transferred out of Urban Prep, school officials said".


      2. Excellent points Clif – can we talk?

        Clif – you raise many great points

        I’d enjoy the opportunity to discuss some of these issues with you

        Please e-mail me at or call me @ 847 328-0722

        thank you


    2. Curious

      I see that there are many criticisms of District 65 in this discussion. I remember reading about Oakton’s three track system several years ago. Regular, bilingual (spanish), and afro-centric. Is the data available to examine whether that innovative curriculum worked?

      1. ACC not delivering as promised

        The ACC–which was to eliminate the achievement gap–produces results no different than the standard fare.  But it has political support.  I don’t understand why the NAACP is no longer at D65 meetings protesting the continuing achievement gap. 

        See this article in the RoundTable.

        1. Murphy pampered ACC failure

          If you read the article in the Roundtable you’ll notice how D65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy says ACC had "enormous potential," and … "children can thrive in the African Centered program."

          Yet, ACC students scored 7 points lower in math than African-American students not in ACC. ACC is failing as an experiment and yet more resources are pumped into the pilot program.

          Even more concerning to me as a parent of a D65 student, the average ACC class size is 16 students. My kids class at Lincolnwood has 28 students and one teacher.

          It appears not every student is equal at D65.

          D65 Board members Keith Terry, Katie Bailey and Bonnie Lockhart, who all voted for another contract extension for Hardy Murpy and who are actively pushing for a new and unnecessary Fifth Ward school that would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, are up for re-election. Vote these people OUT!

          You can apply to run for the D65 school board from Dec. 13-20.

  7. How can you be ‘bored’ at end up in the top 5%?

    First, I wouldn’t personally use the term ‘bored’; I would prefer underchallenged and underserved.

    How does it happen? 1) Many of these kids are innately talented, and they learn by their own devices.  2) Many of these kids have home environments that are more challenging than the school enironment in which they spend their days. 

    1. Fixed mindset

      Time for you to read Carol Dweck’s work on the nature of intelligence and how your concept of "innate" is probably untrue and ultimately damaging to all of us.  "Talent Development" should not be limited to the kids at the 95%ile.  We all have talents;  all of us must be supported to develop them.  Especially 14 year olds.

      Too bad you missed Tomlinson’s talk on Wednesday night at Chute. 

      1.  No one says limit ‘Talent

         No one says limit ‘Talent Development’  to the 95%ile – but we should also not ignore the ‘95%ile.  I was at the Chute presentation – and it was strong on goals and weak on plans.  The focus was lifting all boats as resources are redeployed from the 95%ile.  This inherently creates concerns.  Concerns that should be addressed with concrete plans rather than statements like "we can’t no succeed" or " we have waited 127 years".  Failure to execute is not an exception.

        Another key point of focus was the point that Standardized testing fails to include certain kids – why not fix that entry criteria instead of eliminating it.  Why not add a subjective "teacher supported" recommendation?

      2. All evidence points to an innate contribution to intelligence

        and Carol Dweck doesn’t disagree.  What she points out is that those who believe that it is all in the genes tend not to have a work-oriented mindset that results in high levels of achievement. 

    2. How can you be ‘bored’ at end up in the top 5%?

      My kid took the EXPLORE test in 8th grade and scored in the 100% in reading.  In a class of other kids with similar type scores and with an interesting teacher, he  would probably take school somewhat seriously.  He is not a "great student" who writes neatly and turns in all of his homework,  but will finish off a book in a flash and think about it insightfully on his own.  Kids who score high on these tests can be very talkative, argumentative and disruptive –as can those who score at the bottom, albeit for different reasons.

       In a mixed class, he would most likely contribute to the behavior problem that is inevitably going to arise when the differences between the 40% and the 95% become apparent.  I suspect he–and perhaps a lot of boys–would sink to the lowest common denominator rather than rise–which is what this "innovation" is premised upon.  With all the focus on the 95 % + students people are forgetting that it does not feel particularily great to "not get it" and critical thinking is something that the high scores have already developed and the low scores most likely have not.  I hope that they are prepared for some classroom management issues that the high scoring boys may contribute to.   It seems like the straight honors and mixed level honors addressed that issue–although I always thought that students who scored near the cut off should be able to provide other information to show they belonged in the class. In any event,  I will take motivation and hard work anytime over high test scores, and I think the mixed level honors class provided an opportunity for those motivated students to take all honors.  

      I agree with the other commentator that we have detracked before in my era and it really didn’t work.


    3. Is it really hard to understand how a kid ends up bored?

      Have you ever been in a conversation where someone went on and on to explain their viewpoint and you understood it after the first sentence?

      Have you ever been in a business meeting where most of the discussion simply didn’t pertain to you?  How much did you get out of that?

      That’s how the "95% percentile" kids end up "bored".  It really isn’t a mystery – you trying sitting in a class where you aren’t learning anything new for SEVERAL HOURS a day.  Every day.  While they may go on to succeed despite this, it certainly doesn’t encourage them to try really hard in school (what’s the point in getting further ahead?).

      And that’s true no matter how enriching their home environment is.  Let’s not forget where our next generation of innovators come from.  Do we want to teach them that it’s not worth trying hard in school, and that you never really have to push yourself to succeed?

  8. U.S. test scores vrs. the World—not good

    The New York Times and Wall Street Journal today [Dec. 7] have articles about how American students compare with other countries—no well at all.

    The Chancellor of NY schools over the weekend reported that studies show family income is not the cause of poor scores, as seems to be claimed in Evanston.  He says studies show good teachers make the difference.  

    Various reports are that the Asian schools that produce high scores, have teachers who are in the top third of their class—and their major being in their field [a real degree, not ____for teachers], not education and that teaching is viewed as superior field, not as in the U.S. as field for college students that can’t find a job.

    1. Rude and untrue

      Your comments about teachers in the US is disparaging and untrue.  I am constantly impressed by the professionalism, dedication and skill of my children’s teachers.

    2. A Measure of ETHS Success

      One measure of how the honor courses and strongly performing students are doing, would be to show [among other competitions] the number of students who have made it higher than the state level in the International Math Olympia and Intel Science Competition.

      For the later, I know two students did well in the Intel Competition six or so years ago, but I’ve not seen any other results.  Anyone know ETHS’s records ?

      1. ETHS’s  participation in  the

        ETHS’s  participation in  the Intel competition appears to have dropped off in 2006.    Yes, there have been individual students that have been named as good scholars.   In fact, ETHS’s record of producing Intel winners was my primary reason for sending my children to ETHS.   While it might take a FOIA request,   it might also be useful to note the number of National Merit Scholars, and the number of minority students that have excelled between 2006 and 2010.   I do not believe that all of the students coming into ETHS after 2006 were incapable of performing work suitable for the Intel competition  or the International Math Olympiad;  therefore, there has to be some other factor or factors in the equation.   In any event,  those numbers should also be used to measure achievement.

      2. A Measure of ETHS science success

        For at least the past 40 years,ETHS has consistently been one of the top schools in the nation in the Intel (Westinghouse) Science Competition.  This achievement is (as always) the result of HARD work on the part of the ETHS students.  These national winners have all been the product of needed home and family support and school (ie.. honors courses) support.

        1. ETHS grad math/physics author

          Residents may be interested in knowing that ETHS grad Leonard Mlodinow, has written several books including the new "The Grand Design" with Stephen Hawking, ["Feynman’s Rainbow" [him and Richard Feynman], and ‘Drunkard Walk" [how randomness rules our lives] among others..

          He now teachs at CalTec and has written for ‘Star Trek.’

  9. Today I am more saddened,

    Today I am more saddened, outraged, and concerned about shootings outside the high school than whether there is de-tracking or tracking inside it.  

    1. Sad, but. . .


      I agree, it is sad that anyone should be murdered, especially near our schools, but I don’t see what this has to do with ETHS except proximity. Unless you consider that those who don’t get decent educations don’t get good jobs, may fall into crime and become crime victims.

  10. Data tells the story

    The administration knows that eliminating the straight honors track will hurt the high achieving students. Their own data shows it. In a report from Dr. Carrie Livingston in April, it noted: "When “correctly placed,”– students in honors experienced the fastest growth and students in remedial progressed experienced the slowest growth."

    "When students were placed down a level below that which their EXPLORE score suggested, they experienced slower growth on standardized tests " 

    Detracking is an exercise in smoke and mirrors designed to pull up the "bubble" students – those who aren’t quite making AYP but might with a bit of a kick-start. All the talk about diversity and differentiation are just a smoke screen. They really don’t care if honors students do worse because that makes no difference to NCLB.

    1. You don’t understand

      The schools want to maintain that everyone is equal in every area and that no one should be given anything special [that is hard working, bright students should not—-everyone can].  They want to level the ‘playing field’ so no one feels left behind or ‘unequal.’   If that means the hard working students can’t get the best education possible, well so be it—-as long as the illusion is continued.

      Next year I’m sure all the sports teams will demand each student be given equal training and playing time even in conference games.


      If the schools really want everyone to get an equal education [and I don’t mean lowest common denominator], they should make sure the Middle Schools get their act together [seems to be where the real problems start], get parents involved [e.g. turn off the TV esp. when kids are studying, be in the house and it would not hurt to study along with them so they see education is life-long; limit the computer games, IPod time, and even sports if necessary], get the focus to be on the students rather than teacher tenure/salaries and increasing the number and pay of administration [anything over $100,000 is out of line].

  11. What separates children in school.

    The Wall Street Journal Jan. 8, 2011 has an interesting article about why some students may do better in schools and jobs.  "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior."

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