Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon makes the case for the school’s new biology curriculum in this guest essay.

At ETHS we are committed to empowering all students to achieve academically. Our data show we have the teachers, class offerings, curriculum, academic support system, and high expectations for many of our students to soar and achieve academic growth that significantly exceeds national norms.

Our challenge is to ensure that all students at ETHS experience the best we have to offer. We must set high standards and guarantee strong, accelerated coursework for all students so their ETHS diploma represents successful completion of a rigorous course of studies.

Ninth grade at ETHS is the launch year for our students. The freshman experience is being strengthened to prepare students to take challenging classes during their four years in high school. We began by implementing a cutting-edge, earned-honors model for Freshman Humanities. Last fall, we indicated that the important next step is to develop a revised, more rigorous, more engaging earned-honors-credit biology course, which most students take their freshman year.

It is critical to align our students’ first exposure to biology to what they can expect later on in high school, as well as gaining a lifelong understanding of science concepts. To that end, this year we are aligning biology with the College Board’s newly revised Advanced Placement (AP) Biology course, focusing on the same Big Ideas as are taught in AP Biology.

Given the speed with which scientific knowledge expands, our teachers have the challenge of balancing breadth of content coverage with depth of understanding.

Notably, the College Board has shifted AP Biology from a “content coverage model of instruction to one that focuses on enduring, conceptual understandings and the content that supports them.”

Students in AP Biology—and soon in the introductory biology course—will spend less time on factual recall and more time on inquiry-based learning to develop the critical reasoning skills necessary to engage in science learning and understanding.

We know that emphasizing concepts over facts makes the content of a biology course more meaningful for students, and the College Board agrees: “A biology course has more structure and meaning when the key concepts for each topic are placed in the broader context.”

When adopted, introducing freshmen to these Big Ideas will better prepare them to accelerate their science learning. The Big Ideas are:

  • The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
  • Biological systems utilize free energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce, and to maintain dynamic homeostasis.
  • Living systems store, retrieve, transmit, and respond to information essential to life processes.
  • Biological systems interact, and these systems and their interactions possess complex properties.

In restructured biology classes, freshmen will earn honors credit based on the quality of their work throughout the semester. The work we have done in earned-honors Humanities informs our work. Previously, the designation of honors was based on placement criteria and did not take into consideration how students performed in class.

Right now, our biology teachers are developing a sequence of rubrics and assessments that will provide students with clear expectations of what they need to know and be able to do to earn honors credit. They will also be developing differentiated instruction lessons.

In addition, freshmen taking biology will be required to perform at a high level throughout each semester and on semester exams. To ensure that we have a strong assessment program, semester exams are being aligned to the ACT College Readiness Standards. A consultant is working with a team of teachers on best practices in test construction.

Along with increased rigor comes the necessity to provide abundant supports. At ETHS, we have academic support available before, during, and after school, as well as on select Saturdays throughout the school year.

Our Science Study Center is open before, during, and after school Monday through Friday. We offer AM support Monday through Friday before school where students can receive help from their content-area teachers.

The Homework Center is open Monday through Thursday after school. Our AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and STAE (Steps Toward Academic Excellence) academic support programs will reinforce the biology course as they currently do for Freshman Humanities.

Through the new rigorous biology curriculum, freshmen will certainly increase their science skills. Student well-being will be maintained and enhanced through supportive learning environments. Freshmen will also learn academic persistence and develop the intellectual capital required to take more challenging courses at ETHS.

Assigning our freshmen to earned-honors classes is an important step to ensuring that an ETHS diploma will signify that every graduate has taken rigorous classes and is academically prepared to succeed in a 21st Century, competitive world.

Join the Conversation


  1. De-Tracking the High School?

    Let's talk directly about the merits of de tracking.   

    A "guarenteed" curriculum sounds great.   But there is no evidence that a borader range of students supports learning outputs.   

    Freshman Humanites = Earned Honors credit – will take multiple (3 ) years to get a handle on.   The first iteration – eliminating some of the tracks – did NOTHING with regards to achievement.   

    Why move forward – without evidience that larger and broader base of learners is the way to improve achievement for all?

    Dr. Witherspoon quotes back PEG's  Glenn Singleton  all the time.   Even in PEGs work, I cannot find any examples of improved achievment for all.  I can't even find evidence of improved achievement for some.

    The conversation is "Is it best for the community – for all students – will it raise achievement accross the board if we do away with ability grouplng?   If we de- track, will ETHS become the school it has the promise to be.  Will we go the way of Brookline Mass which as eliminiated some tracks well – and built the top tracks at the same time, or will we go the way of Caimbridge High, which de tracked and saw it's aspirational students leave – regardless of race or ethnicicty.

    Find out if this effort has some merits before rolling it out further.   Improve the curriculum.   Detrack if and when we see evidence that it works.



    1. Or the merits of tracking?

      Why would we continue to tolerate a system of stratification that has so poorly served children of color and of poverty?

      We have ample evidence that something….perhaps tracking….is not working well at ETHS for a large number of students.  Don't we owe it to those students to question the status quo….which might be tracking….so they have a better chance of leading productive, rewarding lives?   

      Shall we continue to fiddle while Rome burns?

      1. It didn’t work in grade school and it won’t work in high school

        Children of color and poverty enter ETHS with nine years of a completely de-tracked D65 grade school education behind them. Some exceed standards. Some take honors humanities and biology under the current system and succeed. But for many, D65's detracking did not solve the problem. And for many in high school, detracking will not solve the problem. At what point does our community stop holding strong students back so another set of kids can have "one more chance" to catch up? Stop blaming the schools and penalizing those who succeed. Start looking elsewhere for answers.

      2. Let’s be rigorous

        The problem here is we have all this evidence that something is wrong, but nothing pointing to exactly what. How do we know tracking is the problem? We don't. All we know is something is wrong, and there is a large achievement gap. But that achievement gap was present in middle school. No one tracked there.

        Furthermore, all the 'evidence' Witherspoon cites doesn't support this 'earned honors' program. Just because something may be bad, it doesn’t mean one of many alternatives is good. In order for Evanstonians who rely on data to back this proposal, we need numbers supporting this specific program. Not anecdotes about keyboards clacking or a kid who doesn't feel they deserve an award because they aren't in an honors class.

        The good news is we can get this evidence. Earned honors humanities was implemented this year, and in 3 short years, we will have data telling us if this program is a success or not. With this program, we are questioning the status quo, but we need to make sure our interventions will actually help kids succeed in the world. We all want this to work. We all want a solution to this horrible problem. But what if it doesn't fix the problem? What if it makes things worse? What if nothing different happens? We need to wait, be cautious, rigorous, and rational. In 3 years we will have the answers to these questions. In 3 years, we will be able to make an educated decision, not one based on hope and dreams.

        No one is fiddling while Rome burns. We are trying to put out the fire. But we have to wait so we can make sure that it is water we are throwing on that fire, not gasoline.

        1. All in favor of the status quo, please stand up.

          Why is this dialogue mostly anonymous and why is it dominated by "Rome is burning" and "gasoline on the fire" type rhetoric? ETHS is not falling apart, it is trying something new and on a small scale. Let's be rigorous and rational but let's not pilot such a small change that there is no ability to measure its effect.

          All reasonable posters seems to agree that there is a large achievement gap. While there is no evidence that tracking is the root cause, it seems that the status quo is not working. If we can agree that there is a problem, why are we so afraid of change? Let's remember that we are essentially debating a pilot program in ONE humanities class and ONE science class.

          -What if some students can indeed be pulled into honors level performance without holding back those who already are achieving? 

          -What if science is different than humanities?

          -Is there any current, hard evidence that these changes are holding historically strong students back?

          -What if Dr Witherspoon is right and is allowed to do the job for which he has such passion?

          -Whether one agrees with his philosophy/research, don't we want to know the answer to these questions?

          Let's not widely adopt detracking or any solution to the gap without evidence, but let's also not be so paralyzed by fear and change that we do nothing or, even worse, almost nothing. Personally, I think those who are most worried about these changes have the least to lose.

          1. This “small change” isn’t the

            This "small change" isn't the real problem.  Rather, it's the fact that Dr. Witherspoon is not being "rigorous and rational" in making his case for this change and the fact that his rhetoric strongly suggests he wants to implement such changes beyond freshman humanities and biology.  

            As most people know, the sad fact is that the achievement gap is a long standing and nationwide problem.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/education/09gap.html (Noting that the "achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented — a social divide extremely vexing to policy makers and the target of one blast of school reform after another.").

            And the achievement gap is noticeable at early ages in fully integrated, non-tracked schools.  See http://www.childrensalliance.org/no-kidding-blog/achievement-gap-starts-kindergarten.

            These basic realities must inform any responsible effort to address this vexing issues, which should not be ignored.  Dr. Witherspoon, however, seems to ignore the broad societal issues raised by the data and instead clings to  PEG's unsupported view that the current curriculum and "institutional racism" among the staff at ETHS is primarily responsible for the disparity in achievement.  His failure to acknowledge basic data on the achievement gap, along with the divisive rhetoric used to push for approval of his proposals, naturally breeds distrust.  In fact, the primary reason given in support of the current proposal is the existence of an achievement gap at ETHS (which, to hear him talk, is a recent development that is unique to ETHS).  The myopic focus on de-segragating classrooms leads to legitimate concerns about what additional steps he will seek to impose in order to fix this problem (even if the current proposal is a "small change").

          2. I agree with you–the gap is

            I agree with you–the gap is long standing and a nationwide problem. And it is a problem in most schools, early childhood and non-tracked. What I don't understand is how that is evidence that this pilot program will be unsuccessful or that it will hurt already successful students with significant resources at school and home.

            The freshman curriculum seems researched, targeted and resourced. Who cares if Dr Witherspoon's rhetoric or personal goal is to widely implement this change–he will need proven performance to do so. Let's permit him to try and not deconstruct the whole thing before it gets off the ground.

            Again, Evanstonians should not widely adopt detracking or any potential solution to the gap without evidence, but let's also not be so paralyzed by fear and change that we do nothing or, even worse, almost nothing.

            There is some evidence that children can gain ground even increase their IQ. Let's try to understand why and make room at the table for those who need it the most.

            Interesting: http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-iq-changes-teens-20111019,0,4545082.story

    2. Strategic detracked

      The research on ETHS mixed classes suggested that when a critical mass of honors students are present in a class, the rest of the class becomes more honors-like.

      The problem is that the schedule of classes are determined by classes that are harder to detrack – such as math or reading. When the effort is in proving the wisdom of changing the tracked system, the counselors or administrators or secretary who actually balances the number of each reading level students in each class takes care that not too many low readers are in any one class. They also will "share the wealth" of the high readers carefully the first year.

      After the administration has proved their wisdom, the disorder of placement will end up placing many of one type of student or another in a specific class throwing the critical mass into a critical mess.

      After all, isn't part of the evidence for the need of detracking the fact that the administration is so bad at putting students into the correct level classes that the minority students are now segregated into low level classes?

  2. Witherspoon is duplicitous and disengenous

    After reading Superintendent Eric Witherspoon's column do you have a clear understanding of his opinion on what an ETHS diploma means?

    I sure don't.

    Instead, I struggled through a rhetorical maze of bureacratic lingo. Here are some dilly dallies.

    "The work we have done in earned-honors Humanities informs our work."

    "Student well-being will be maintained and enhanced through supportive learning environments."

    What Dr. Witherspoon doesn't say here is that he had stated publicly that there are too many "white faces" in AP honor courses. Never mind that not all of AP honor students who had EARNED their way to AP honor courses through hard work and testing were white. It's just that Witherspoon and D202 fat cat bureacrats thought the racial mix was not balanced.

    To even the playing field in their minds, Witherspoon and EVERYBODY on the D202 School Board last year voted to do away with the traditional testing and admittance in the prestigous AP humanities and now possibly the AP biology courses and allow ALL freshmen students to take courses in what they deem honor classes.  Any student who can read at the freshmen level will earn honor credits in humanities and if the current D202 Board say yes, AP biology.

    Why didn't Witherspoon and D202 bureacrats simply enhance the rigors of mainstream freshmen courses and leave the traditional AP honors courses alone?  One reason can be found through a diversity consultant – the Pacific Education Group (PEG) – that is advising the Board and administrators that there is "institutional and systematic racism" at D202.

    Of course, no one on the D202 Board has yet had the courage to openly discuss whether that is true or not. I'd like to see the FACTS of this so-called racism at D202. At the same time, it's infuriating to know that D202 has paid PEG at least $50,000.

    The elimination of the traditional AP freshmen honors courses was a policy based on racial quotas. It's that simple. And it outraged the community so much that they voted out the only two D202 incumbent candidates who ran in the last election.

    The meaning of an ETHS diploma is this: Every freshmen at ETHS is an honors student. 

    Trust me, this crap doesn't fly in the real world.


    1. Honors-Level Fact Checking

      And it outraged the community so much that they voted out the only two D202 incumbent candidates who ran in the last election.

      Are you sure about that one, Al?

      Last time I checked, Mark Metz was the sitting president of the D202 school board. He was a sitting member of the board when he ran in the last election – and while he had previously been appointed, not elected, he was running as an incumbent. Jane Colleton was the other incumbent running for reelection. Care to explain how Mark Metz was voted out and yet still remains on the board?

      When you have the facts, pound the facts. When you don't have the facts, pound the table. Al is giving that table a workout.

      Does anyone, shrieking and pulling their hair out over this alleged "dumbing down" of Humanities, actually have children in this class this year?


      1. You can’t handle the truth

        Of all the FACTS I pointed out you zone in on a technicality and think it's a gotcha moment.

        Yes, Metz was an incumbent who won the D202 election. The thing is ALL non-incumbents also won the D202 election. If there was just one more non-incumbent I believe Metz would have lost.

        What did I write that was not factual? I stated the facts and all you can do is respond with a personal attack.

        I assure you I am not pounding the table. But when the next D202 school board election arrives I will be pounding the pavement to vote out more D202 incumbents.



        1. A Telling Hand-Wave

          While I don't know all the facts of all the issues, I know a howler when I see one. And when the howler is handwaved away like you did above – "what did I write that was not factual?" – after I pointed out precisely what was not factual. I have to question every "fact" you lay out. It's hardly a personal attack to point out that you're playing fast and loose with facts. You seem to want to do to make your point, supported by reality or not.

          In another post, in the last two days, you had this one:

          Mayor Tisdhal and Aldermen Wilson, Wynne, Holmes and Braithwaithe are OK with closing branch libraries, art centers, other recreation amenities and increasing city taxes, fees and fines

          When has Alderman Wynne ever been OK with closing branch libraries? Take all the time you need on that one, Al. Is it central to your thesis? No, but it's the sort of blustery overstatement that calls your veracity into question. Of course you're pounding the table!

          The thing is ALL non-incumbents also won the D202 election. If there was just one more non-incumbent I believe Metz would have lost.

          Two things: First, there were four candidates (two non-incumbents, two incumbents) for three seats, so it's hardly the sweeping mandate you make it out to be. Second, Mr. Metz outpolled Mr. Rochelle, which in your telling should not have happened because of the level of outrage in the community. Your fantasy candidate might have defeated Mr. Metz, but here in reality that candidate did not exist. So your speculation is just that, speculation. You're outraged – so everyone is outraged. Of course you are pounding the table.


          I was serious, though, Al: Do you have any children in the current "earned honors" Humanities course that has you all atwitter? I noticed you zoned out on that one. It's not meant as some sort of conversation-stopper, either. I'm genuinely curious.



          1. Ironically, Wrong Again.

            You should check YOUR facts. You exhibit the same facility with data as Witherspoon. If you would check the results for the election (Link here: http://results.cookcountyclerk.com/summary.aspx?eid=040511), Baum came in first, Rochelle came in SECOND, and Metz, the incumbent, brought up the rear.

            The reason why Metz was elected was because he was the incumbent with the least amount of experience. Unfortunately, one incumbent had to be elected. We are all suffering now.

            And I would just like to let you know, as a response to your question in your first response, that I have a Freshman this year in Humanities, and it most definately is not at amazing as Witherspoon and Bavis' anecdotes make it sound.

            My child's experience as well as others from different teachers are finding that the class discussions are only lead by a select few while others sit around doing nothing, and if homework is not done in class it isn't completed, and teachers are struggling to differentiate their teaching to all levels. I am thinking strongly of moving from Evanston or sending my younger children to one of the many private school options available. I am tired of this 'guinea pig' approach.

          2. Honors-Level Chart Reading


            As to your reading of the results, I am bemused:

            1. Baum          3156
            2. Metz            2857
            3. Rochelle      2823
            4. Colleton       2328

            Or as the list appears on the Cook County Clerk's website:

            Mark Metz                         24.36%     2,857
            Jonathan K. Baum            26.91%     3,156
            Jane Colleton                   19.85%      2,328
            Richard Scott Rochelle     24.07%     2,823

            [Source: http://results.cookcountyclerk.com/summary.aspx?eid=040511 1. High School District; 2. Evanston; 3. ALL]

            CB, if you think that 2857 < 2823 (translated into English: 2857 is less than 2823) then yes, Mr. Rochelle outpolled Mr. Metz – If we counted election results like golf or cross-country scores, that is. (Dr. Witherspoon and I thank you for the compliment.)

            Thanks for your take on your child's experience. Ours has been completely different.

          3. Once again- Partial stats just like Witherspoon

            I hate to break it to you, but you still are not looking at the true results (just a partial picture)!  ETHS includes Evanston and Skokie.  As much as ETHS wants to not look at the reality of their school, you don't want to look at real numbers either.  TRY AGAIN!!!  Baum first, Rochelle second and Metz third.  


          4. You’re Partially Right


            You're partially right. I wasn't looking at the Skokie numbers.

            However, assuming that I didn't want to look at the real numbers is an assumption you shouldn't make. I just didn't stop to remember that portion of the district. My error, not the school's.

            Therefore, you are entitled to do your shrieky (TRY AGAIN!!!) happy dance.

          5. Explain institutional and systematic racism at ETHS

            Now that you realize I was right about Metz rather than pound the table perhaps you can explain using FACTS  the "institutional and systematic racism" at ETHS.

            I'd love to hear about it.

            BTW- what's ironic about being anonymous? 


      2. my kid is in it and it is great

        My son is in the mixed freshman honors humanities classes and he is doing great.  The teachers seem terrific and he is on track to earn his honors credit.  I have no idea if he would have been honors-tracked in humanities but he was not in bioogy or geometry so I am betting not.

        I like it because it is more like real-life.  You want honors?  You better go work for it every single day.  That's what i do at work.  I was in honors in high school and it meant you knew you could get a B because it would still be an A GPA-wise.  

        I think this promotes real learning in an on-going way and am surprised that those who hold more conservative opinions and offer us Horatio Alger stories in comments on this blog all the time don't see it this way.

        1. One size doesn’t fit all: It doesn’t work for my child

          I'm glad that your child is doing well in this humanities class. Your child probably would have done well in the mixed level course that was offered last year. But, for an alternative perspective, look at my kid. My child is bored out of his skull.

          He has read all of the material that is being read in class when he was in middle school. And he is being told he 'can't read ahead' or go on to a new book. The class is going at a really slow pace for him, and he hates going to humanities now. I understand that people want their children to earn honors credit, and I commend you child for being on track. But my child is stuck, he can't advance, and the class is going much slow for him. There is no way for him to be challenged.

          That is how this class is not 'more real world.' In the real world, when you master something or are exceling, you get a promotion or move on to something bigger. Someone with a lower ability level will not be doing the exact same thing as someone with a higher ability level. Some people have to work hard every day to earn honors, but others don't have to, they are already there.

          And also, just so you know, even if you get an honors B that would only count on your weighted GPA. Most colleges want you unweight GPA, so that grade would still count towards a B on the GPA submitted to schools on your child’s transcript.

          I can't speak for others, but I know I am not using a Horatio Alger mindset. I do not believe those on the bottom can't improve; in fact I want them too. My problem is the lack of data, and the fact that those on the top are not being challenged. The school is so focused on bringing up the bottom that those on the top are being ignored, like my child. My child has just as much of a right to be challenged in his class as yours does, and this program is not challenging my child. It's just not right.

          1. The whole problem is one size fits all

            The main problem with 202 is that it takes a one size fits all approach to ALL problems.  Each child is different and instead of celebrating and supporting each child, they apply global solutions, and end up failing many many children.

            If I can choose between a dozen ways to get information, from streaming to DVD to cable to Dish, to old fashioned book reading, I do not understand why kids can't have a myriad selection of ways to get content an process it in the educational setting.

            In the real world, there is no "curriculum."  You have to figure out the expectations of your industry, learn new skills every year, and there are no standardized tests–you cut it or you are out of a job. Education needs to do a better job of simulating the world that kids will work in. And that includes presenting challenges to ALL kids and that will take a custom fit approach.

          2. Class size and mixture

            I don't advocate a move to this at all but I grew up in an area where many rural children went from K-8 in one room schools.

            Many of them were star students when they move to the 9-12 in town.  They tended to be more disciplined and self motivated. The teachers provided work not only for each grade level but individual ability/interest.   The older kids helped the younger children—and similar with the advanced students helping those with problems.

            You find when you have to teach/help, you really learn the material instead of just spitting back facts or what they are taught.

          3. My kid isn’t a teacher

            My kid isn't a teacher.  My kid doesn't go to school to teach other kids but instead my kid go's to school, just like your kids, to be educationally challenged!  I'm a taxpayer. Why should my kid not get the same benefits your kid gets?  If you think it is such a benfit for a kid to teach other kids, then I suggest you move your kid into Humanities with support.  Then your kid can experience what my kid is getting.  Not an option, right?


            Comparing ETHS to a one room school house–REALLY???  Is that what we pay for????  I think we expect more from our community…It's why we choose to live here…  Another point in a one room school house, my kid might be given higher material not happening at ETHS.  No opportunity for my kid to test out of Freshman level and be placed higher exists…It's all determined by by age not ability!!!


            Also, just to let you know, kids are not allowed to have outside reading material in the classroom.

          4. supplement?

            I am sorry your kid is bored.  I was bored all the time in school too.  My mom told me to have a book all the time (because otherwise I talked to other kids and got into trouble).  Why can;t the teachers have a workstation for kids who are way ahead with supplemental materials?  Especially with this humanitites assignment (or at least the one my kid has). there is unlimited stuff to read, documentaries to watch (seven some streaming on netflix!).

            I'm no longer talking about the program, just trying to think through ways your kid (and kids like him.her) could continue to be enriched.  

  3. Witherspoon is wrong again

    There is no way around it–not every student is "advanced." This is another step toward Witherspoon's ultimate goal of completely de-tracking the high school, which would dumb down the curriculum for all students and ensure nothing more than uniform mediocrity.

    What is the best way to push intelligent, successful people farther up the North Shore when they would otherwise consider moving to Evanston? Dumbing down and destroying the only decent public education institution we have here: ETHS. Witherspoon can frame this any way he likes by writing idealistic, well polished editorials, but it doesn't change the reality.

    You're wrong on this Witherspoon. Give it up, Evanston won't stand for it.

  4. Not tracking or de-tracking but course choice by ability

    The tracking has been an issue for many years.

    Instead of putting a student on a 'track', the students record by course type should be evaluated and that determine what 'level' [regular mixed, honors, and face it remedial] the student should be put in.

    Some students are only interested in some subjects such as science/math and while they are capable of excellent work in history or literature either hate it or do not have the interest to excel.  They would be candidates for honors classes in science/math but mixed [or maybe call it 'traditional'] history/literature.  An example [though college] would be Feynman who considered history/liteature and in particular philosophy 'dippy' but being at MIT for undergrad could get away with writing about science in those course. 


    The comment about 'nine years of a complete de-tracked' is questionable in that parents with advanced degrees tell me that middle school is really the problem.  Students seem to do well until middle-school and then whether bad teachers, bad courses/books, social pressure or hormones, makes middle-school a waste land.  If they are lucky something happens in high school and they get back on track [not 'tracking'] and get interested in the field(s) that interest them and may excel once again.  Alll or most of the discussion seems to be on ETHS when the problems have to be resolved long before that either in the elementary or middle-schools—and not with gimmicks like culture centered programs or dual language programs that slow learning English so they can't do the work—-being bi-lingual is great but that does not mean using the native language as an excuse. By the way, why do they not consider the Asian languages when they talk of dual programs ? or Asian mathematics ?

    1. It’s a fact

      "The comment about 'nine years of a complete de-tracked' is questionable in that parents with advanced degrees tell me that middle school is really the problem.  Students seem to do well until middle-school and then whether bad teachers, bad courses/books, social pressure or hormones, makes middle-school a waste land. "


      Nothing questionable about it: D65 students get nine years of a de-tracked education. Those who are lucky get tracked in math starting in grade five or six–tracked in math only, not tracked in any other subject area. This is fact. No advanced degrees are required to determine the accuracy of that statement.

      The questionable statement is "middle school is really the problem." Things go amiss earlier than sixth grade. As you go through grade school it becomes more and more obvious which kids are strong students and which are not. The strong students start to pull WAY AHEAD, and the gap becomes larger throughout third through fifth grade.

      Behavior becomes more of an issue starting in third grade, and that increases in fourth and fifth grade. Most D65 schools use PBIS, which is a system of positive rewards and statistical monitoring  for behavior. PBIS programs become much less effective in about fourth or fifth grade–the kids become much more interested in peers and much less interested in collecting PBIS rewards for good behavior.

      People need to stop dumping on middle schools. Sure, middle school has unique challenges–but so does that age of children. The achievement gap may widen in grades six through eight, but it wasn't born there.

      There are no magic bullets for the achievement gap, just a whole lot of things that have to go more "right" for some children: home life, poverty/income, values, good preschool, parental empowerment, parenting skills (involvement, ability to work within the system), and in the system itself an acceptance of diversity that doesn't simultaneously devalue academic achievement.

      Witherspoon's intervention in grade nine may shift a few kids up who were at the edges, but it is not going to fix a problem that started ten years earlier, and accellerated from there.

    2. Lack of preparation in K-12

      The Wall Street Journal Oct. 24, 2012  page A15 has a review 'The Hidden Campus Crisis' about a new book 'Mismatch' by R. Sanders and S. Taylor.

      The topic is why minorities tend to be less successful in completing degrees esp. in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) than white students especially in top level [e.g. Ivy] colleges. 

      The basic reason is lack of preparation in K-12.  When a minority student, even highly ranked in high school, attends top level schools there may be academic shock.  At an Ivy, physics may start with the assumption of good calculus [and other] base and good science education in high school.  Without the high schools preparing students properly, it is a tough mountain to climb. 

      When these students go to a lesser known school that does not make the same assumptions about preparation, e.g. maybe starts physics on an algebra basis, the students tend to do better and have a higher chance of completing a STEM degree.  As an educator once testified to Congress "it is better to graduate from IIT than flunk out of MIT." 

      Of course the goal is to get the K-12 to prepare all students sufficiently to attend any college and with any major.  We need to ask if from Evanston K-12 if the programs, including mix and honors accomplish this or if even 'tracking' with definite steps to move students up, works better.

      However even with a good K-12 education, obstacles can still exist at top schools.  Some years ago Uri Treisman [then at U. Cal. Berkeley] saw the black students flunking calculus at alarming rates.  Now these were very bright and well prepared students—Berkeley goes for top students.

      Why the failure rate ?  He noticed the black and Asian students spent the same amount of study time.  BUT the Asian students worked in groups, quizzed each other and at least seemed to help each other.  The black student tended to study alone—perhaps afraid to seem to need help. 

      He made the class the black student was in so difficult that they could only pass by working together—and they did.  Not only did the pass rate greatly improve but it became to most sought-out calculus class for everyone.

      You can talk about affirmative action but if the chain of education is not there you only are increasing the chance for failure.  The sound education starts way back if you want success—not assuming students can always make up 'later.'

      1. Getting more out of education

        For parents or students who want to get a better education and faster the Nov.19, 2012 Forbes magazine has an article about the Khan Academy.  For those who don't know about it, it offers free online videos covering a wide range of subject—-and with proven results.

        For those who do know something about it, the article describes what they do and who has supported them—including Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt of Google.  Also the article contains information on 15 'classroom Revolutionaries.'  Also how universities are offereing more and more online courses—MIT had an electrical engineering course that attracted 155,000; and a Stanford AI class attracked 160,000—and mid-term and final grades were a full-letter higher for those who took the class online.

  5. Snake Oil Salesman – Glenn Singleton

    It's really an amazing racket.   Glenn Singleton from Pacific Education Group gets hired to assess the state of institutional racism and identifies that indeed it exists.   He then get's paid a lot – up to 1 million or more to train staff on how to eliminate institutional racism.   

    Here's a quote from the Activist Next Door:

    "No Bid. No results.  I've studied several school districts across the country where PEG has operated for years including San Leandro, CA, Seattle, WA and Carborro, NC…while there may be some signs of improvement in one subject area or grade level, in another subject area or grade level– the gap widens.  There is absolutely no statistically relevant evidence to prove that PEG has done anything to close the achievement gap.  There is ample evidence to show the gap that PEG has created in the communities in which it's sold it's snake oil.  Superintendent after Superintendent gone, gone, gone.  I'm hoping Eden Prairie's Superintendent Melissa Krull will be next."

    When the achievment gap isn't narrowed, Singleton tells the Board they need to double down and increase the investment – because clearly they've failed at eliminating racism.

    Singleton coined Witherspoon's oft quoted "racial predictability".   

    If you check out any of PEGs info – Witherspoon is following the template to a T.

    Someone find me a district in which PEG can point to success for all – someone tell me there isn't a better way to spend a quarter of a million dollars.   And frankly – if we haven't spent that much yet – it's only a matter of time.

  6. Big Idea 1 – more content than you think

    Big Idea 1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.

    Enduring understanding 1.A: Change in the genetic makeup of a population over time is evolution.

    • Essential knowledge 1.A.1: Natural selection is a major mechanism of evolution.
    • Essential knowledge 1.A.2: Natural selection acts on phenotypic variations in populations.
    • Essential knowledge 1.A.3: Evolutionary change is also driven by random processes.
    • Essential knowledge 1.A.4: Biological evolution is supported by scientific evidence from many disciplines,including mathematics.

    Enduring understanding 1.B: Organisms are linked by lines  of descent from common ancestry.

    • Essential knowledge 1.B.1: Organisms share many conserved core processes and features that evolved and are widely distributed among organisms today.
    • Essential knowledge 1.B.2: Phylogenetic trees and cladograms are graphical representations (models) of evolutionary history that can be tested.

    Enduring understanding 1.C: Life continues to evolve within a changing environment.

    • Essential knowledge 1.C.1: Speciation and extinction have occurred throughout the Earth’s history.
    • Essential knowledge 1.C.2: Speciation may occur when two populations become reproductively isolated from each other.
    • Essential knowledge 1.C.3: Populations of organisms continue to evolve.

    Enduring understanding 1.D: The origin of living systems is explained by natural processes.

    • Essential knowledge 1.D.1: There are several hypotheses about the natural origin of life on Earth, each with supporting scientific evidence.
    • Essential knowledge 1.D.2: Scientific evidence from many different disciplines supports models of the origin of life.
  7. Question about Biology Proposal

    I watched the recent board meeting on replay on Comcast Channel 18, and was very interested to listen to the discussion. Puts things into context that reading articles and talking with others can't provide. Watch the next one or record it on October 30th at 7:30  pm.

    Clearly there are a lot of unanswered questions at this time. One notable issue absent from the presentation and discussion was the internship experience that has been an important part of the current honors biology class. Will this be maintained?

    Friends of our children who have participated in the internship reflect upon this experience as being a very beneficial and interesting part of the honors biology class. ETHS has talked about "increased rigor" and "gaining a lifelong understanding of science concepts" so it would seem that the internship experience will continue.

    My 8th grade daughter is hoping to do an internship at one of the flower shops or greenhouse near our home in South Evanston.

    Does anyone know the answer?

    1. Everyone is honors, 65% get credit?

      Everyone above the 40th percentile in reading will be getting the new honors curriculum. The high amount of vocabulary will put those who cannot read well or deal with complex concepts at a disadvantage since the plan as explained has all students with the same "honors" expectations. 65% will be receive honors credit. 35% will not. Who do you think will be in the 35%?     Those lazy white students who have been destined for honors by the Dist. 65 testing of course!

      I doubt that the new course will have much of what made honors biology a challenging course for the typical high achieving student. Requirements such as the internship will go away because the numbers will become unmanagable 776 freshman last year

      1. Absolutely correct!

        Yes – I agree.  When I went to the parent meeting, it was made very clear that EVERYONE does all of the assignments, honors and otherwise.  Some assignments are designated "Honors".  Essentially, if you get an 80% on honors assignments, you get honors credit for the class.  If you don't, then you are out of luck.  However, the honors assignments, which are supposed to be more rigorous, count in your regular grade whether or not you get honors credit.  If you were a student who had trouble reading one novel a semester and writing a paper, well, now you get 2-3.  Good luck to you. And by the way, B-level work by the average student is now considered honors by ETHS. 

        As for "extra support", it's been there for years.  Many students don't take advantage of it (after all, it's "extra" – you have to come before school, after school, on a Saturday, or give up a study hall).  However, now that they have made the classes much harder for everyone, I'm sure that students who needed it but didn't take advantage of it before will now flock to the extra support.  If only the "extra support" could be provided in the classroom by teaching directly to the level of all of the students in the room……. 

  8. So many anonymous posts

    Why are so many posts anonymous, including this one? 

    In my opinion, this is the only time most Evanstonians feel free to voice their heartfelt opinions.  And  for good reason.  For more than 20 years I have lived in this community and watched neighbors call each other racists, haters, bigots, elitists, etc, etc.  I have been in public meetings: school boards, city councils, town hall and ward meetings, where people were jeered and ridiculed for daring to voice an opinion that the majority (in the room at the time) disagreed with.  I had two dear freinds who were leaders on opposite sides of the Two-Way-Immersion in District 65 debate who literally were reduced to tears by the pain and acrimony that particular issue engendered in the community and visited upon them in very personal ways.  They were both extremely intelligent, caring, well-intentioned, dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, who ended up heart-broken after months of hard work, extending themself on behalf of the community.  This savage incivility happens in Evanston again and again, year after year.  What is it about us?  I would add that most of the offenders are very educated white people who fancy themselves smarter than anyone who disagrees with them.  They tend to drive around with bumper stickers chiding others to be "tolerant," respect "equality," honor "choice" and "race against hate."   And of course we are all progressives here in Evanston, aren't we?  Judging from the yard signs around election time, conservatives are barely a blip on the radar screen.  So what's to be afraid of?  What is this all about?  Why isn't everything perfect in the "Peoples' Republic of Evanston?"

    1. Why ?

      Because as Occupy _____  and today the protests at NU over Eric Cantor show, the left will picket and try to prevent free speech for anyone that is not 100% behind them—they are the only ones who think free speech is designed for and then at any place they pick, at any time and at any volume.

      Remember how an NU English teacher led students to throw bags of [animal] blood at a speaker inside an NU building.  The left in Evanston [not to mention the radical left esp. at NU] are likely to show up on the lawn of anyone who does not agree with them—and likely bring their supporters from other towns.

      Just conservatives ?  No probably the [silent] majority who are also afraid of the Evanston 'liberals' and what they will do to anyone who does not tow the liberal party line.

      1. Conservative Values

        It's a conservative value that hard work, even through systemic adversity, should separate the able from the inable. The earned honors initiative has more influence from Burke than Rawls. This system isn't about conservative and liberal, so don't drag tawdry definitions of current political nonsense into a healthy debate about the best way to teach kids valuable skills and lessons. 

        1. Conservative values baloney

          "It's a conservative value that hard work, even through systemic adversity, should separate the able from the inable."

          Nonsense….conservatives never have cared for 'hard work' or the laboring classes.  A true conservative, like HRH Prince Philip, or George H.W.  Bush (41) , understands that those who are born into the ruling class have the right to rule, and the little people should stay in their place and do as they are told.   With this right to rule – which is given at birth – sometimes comes a sense of noblesse oblige – as for example when the Prince and Bush volunteered for service during World War II.  However, this is not always the case, and what inevitably happens is that when wealth and power are concentrated in a hereditary ruling class, we get imbeciles like Prince Charles,  George W. Bush, or Kim Jong Il  who have all of the sense of entitlement that their parents had  with none of the sense of duty.  [ See also Paris Hilton and Charlie Sheen – although Martin Sheen was self-made.]    Society then rots further, as the gap between rich and poor increases (entitled vs unentitled) , and everyone realizes that the system is corrupt and unfair and everyone tries to steal as much for themselves without thinking about others.

          1. Liberal Democrats are taxing the poor and middle class

            Based on your logic then the Strogers, Daleys, Madigans, Lipinski's, Jacksons, Hillary Clinton, Sheila Simon, Emil Jones (Obama's political Godfather) and Emil Jones Jr are all conservatives.

            Do you think the aforementioned politicians really care about the working class? Illinois Democrats voted to raise our income taxes 67 percent.

            Democrats keep raising our taxes as the value of our properties decline. Some of us working stiffs are getting poorer thanks to the tax, spend and borrow Democrats.

            I'd say liberals don't care about the working class. 

    2. I agree with much of what you

      I agree with much of what you are saying and lament these sad truths. Unfortunately, I think these anonymous posts are often even worse and breed the sort of hateful rhetoric you are lamenting. A civil, public discourse is more necessary then ever.

    3. Why Anonymous?

      Most of the posts here are anonymous because as soon as people with non-minority children in Evanston advocate for their children, they are labelled "racist."


  9. MIXED Football – Varsity team eliminated

    In Friday's Board agenda and information, the ETHS Administration is proposing to eliminate Varsity Football.

    Coaches will use differentiated instruction.

    Under the new program, beginning next school year, all freshmen who have the requisite athletic skills for high school work will have the opportunity to earn Varsity credit on the field. Those not proficient in football will be assigned to a team called 1 Football with Support.

    This will replace the present program, which includes both a straight Varsity team as well as a mixed team with both regular and Varsity players.

    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 athletic 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 athletic world.

    Instead of lowering the athletic rigor of the program, he declared, it would actually subject all but a few students who have catching and passing difficulties to the same level of play as that currently provided on the straight Varsity team.

    “This recommendation,” he insisted, “is designed to create a school where many more students attain higher athletic achievement, to improve athletic performance for all students, to raise the athletic 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.”

    1. AP data – How many is not enough?

      Administrative comments in FAQs 1   2  seem to say that not enough of the students are enrolled in AP courses. After all, only 618 students took AP tests 1,382 AP exams, Which means that only 21.4% of the students took AP classes last year.

      Of course that is only meaningful if you expect freshmen to be in AP courses. If you expect only seniors to be ready for college courses, then you would look at  it as 618 students took AP tests out of 618 seniors. Hmmmmm.

      Even if you expanded the expected number of AP ready students to all Juniors and Seniors,Then the number is 46%taking the AP tests

      Having the courses of freshmen changed to increase the population in AP makes me wonder who this for.

    1. Not The Same Thing

      You are mistaken to correlate this article to Evanston's "Honors testing".  This article discussed test prep for preschool.  ETHS honors class (before Dr Witherspoon) was based on teacher recommendation, grades, behavior in middle school, , parent request and the explore test.  Placement was not based on something test prep could control.   Parent request was always taken into account.  Sorry—try again!

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