The GHS PTSA co-sponsored an excellent talk given by noted author and education expert Carol Burris, followed by a discussion panel, at the Quincy Jones Center, Wednesday, Jan. 11. Detailed notes on the evening are below.
Dr. Burris is the co-author of Detracking for Excellence and Equity (2008) and Opening the Common Core: How to Bring ALL Students to College and Career Readiness (2012), and authored On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the 21st Century Struggle against Re-segregation (2014).
Dr. Burris started teaching middle school in the mid-1980's and noticed classes were tracked by skin color, that the tracking was institutional. Students did worse when expectations were lower. When the curriculum was lifted for all students, expectations and success went up. After doing extensive research on de-tracking she then spent 15 years as the principal of a high school which eliminated tracks and offered IB classes for all students. These integrated classes were able to raise educational expectations for all.
Some history of educational tracking: in 1893 the Committee of Ten, a group of educators at Harvard University recommended a common American high school curriculum. But with heavy waves of immigration, IQ tests were instituted to separate new immigrants educationally. In 1909 Leonard Ayres published Laggards in Our Schools: A Study of Retardation and Elimination in City School Systems to justify this tracking.
The research shows that tracking increases inequality. Over time, kids with the SAME scores gain or lose skills depending on their tracking, with the high track increasing student achievement and the low track depressing student achievement. The achievement gap between low and high achievement students widens over time.
To lead in detracking one must believe that all students deserve the best curriculum and teaching, and that you cannot close the learning gap without closing the opportunity gap. Acceleration and enrichment will improve students' experiences and "Schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform."
Instructional approach: level UP, don't go for "the middle," create support classes for struggling learners, understand and use the power of curriculum, grade for effort as well as achievement, insist on inclusion and use of support staff, offer professional learning that is long-term, continual, targeted, and differentiated.
From left to right, panel members were: Wayne Au, profesor of Education at UW Bothell, Mary Powers, GHS Language Arts teacher, Doug Edelstein, Nathan Hale History teacher, Koji Pingry, Nathan Hale graduate, and Amira A.-F., GHS student and president, class of 2017.
Doug: At Nathan Hale HS, outcomes of inclusion classes after almost 20 years have been positive, with systematic enrichment and benefits for all. College stats are as good or better, special education testing is higher and results for ELL students are better. The classes give students more responsibilities, self-reliance, critical thinking skills, and the ability to consider the arguments and views of others. Before inclusion, the academic needs of only 25% of the students were served.
Mary: The improvement at Garfield so far has been deeper than academic. It is helping to overcome separation by race and move toward a more unified student body, "One Garfield." Different groups are getting to know each other and overcoming stereotypes. Students realize intelligence is not fixed, and that they have equally important gifts. They meet others of different backgrounds and learn to value diversity.
Koji: At Nathan Hale, inclusion was positive for the school community. Relationships with teachers improved. Students learned to relate to the world, discover who they were as learners and gain a larger understanding of success. All students learn differently. Focus on writing, seminars, critical thinking, discussion, diversity, and respect for the views of others were valuable.
Amira: The class tracking at GHS has led to racial segregation. There is no social mixing. Because classes are segregated, friend groups are segregated. This continues segregration from elementary and middle school and happens in other areas such as clubs, etc. APP kids perceive themselves as "better" and Gen. Ed. kids perceive themselves as "lower." APP kids feel under pressure to keep their status. Teachers don't care as much about Gen. Ed. kids and teach those classes differently. This social climate affects students' mental health.
Wayne: What do tests measure? Levels of affluence, parent education, race, status. Instead, preparation for the world and activism should define a good education. Testing can uphold racism with false rigor and normative assumptions.
Mary: Parents can be reassured that students are challenged because we are providing curriculum-specific support and tutoring. All Garfield Honors for All teachers are working together and collaborating. The teachers know the kids and are working together on Complex Instruction techniques. All students have intellectual weight, and good learning happens outside of school.
Amira : De-tracking is improving segregation at Garfield. But there has been community pushback. Parents are using coded language like "those kids" and "dumb kids." They lack knowledge of the advantages.
Koji: The advantages of de-tracking is it values different learning styles and backgrounds. It is enriching and well-rounded. Challenges are that in AP classes the choice to take the AP exam is still tracked by advantages in finances, time, support. Also large class sizes are a challenge.
Doug: Parents should be assured their students are being challenged by staying involved and informed. All are leveling UP by inclusion to honors-level work. My classes include a log book used to communicate to parents.
Wayne: The vision of public schooling as a meritocracy preserves structural inequalities. The purpose of schooling should be to support democracy, integration and upward mobility. IQ testing came from the eugenics movement trying to establish racial characteristics. Testing enforces racial and class inequalities. Tracked kids are regarded as "special," with a biological basis for intelligence. Tracking codes race and economic privilege. We can either mirror those inequalities or challenge them.
What kind of leadership is needed for de-tracking? Mary: Realize the long-term impact of tracking on cohorts at a young age at Garfield and SPS. Our principal has been supportive. We don't know about the longevity of the program. We are collecting data and making quarterly assessments.
How does testing starting as early as Kindergarten feed into high school tracking? Wayne: MAP tests for early grades don't measure anything useful. We should opt out of it, the District should eliminate it.
How to handle messaging about de-tracking to the community? Carol Burris: It creates a lot of emotion. You need to push through the resistance without pushing people over. Parents naturally love their children and need to feel it is not hurting, or taking away from them. Objective data is reassuring such as lower behavior referrals, higher pass rates. Help parents to understand that all kids have gifts and talents.
How to sustain the effort? Doug: At Nathan Hale the program has been in place 18 years through 4-5 principals and budget cuts. It survived because of strong staff and teacher commitment.
What do you think about competency-based education? Carol Burris: It's a bad idea, another form of tracking.
How can Garfield alumni support the de-tracking effort? Amira: They can come tell their stories, or work as school teachers and counselors.
How to overcome resistance to de-tracking through messaging? There is a perception that privileged kids have nothing to gain. Doug: You have to realize education is not a zero-sum game. Carol Burris: Only experience with it will cause anxiety to go down over time. Parents need to trust that educators are professionals, and have the courage to take a leap of faith that it is the right thing and can be done well. Succes will make the community proud. Wayne: Realize that it is a threat to identity through schooling and challenges superiority. Mary: De-trcked classes are exciting. Doug: De-tracked classes allow mutual acculturation, they are exhuberant, interactive, recognize different stuyles of genius. An example is Cleveland, a small high school where inclusion made it the highest-performing school for special education. The psychology is positive.
Can math classes be de-tracked? Carol Burris: Yes, in my school district Algebra was taught to all 8th graders. It was done in a thoughtful way, over time, at a district level. Koji: Recognize the importance of critical thinking in math and science also.
For students, what messaging would you give to your peers, families, teachers about de-tracking? Amira: For kids—Honors students are not "superior" or more intelligent. For parents—Every student is special. For teachers—check your internal biases and give all students equal rights.
What if the school does not support challenges such as behavior management? Mary: Every class has behavior issues so you use the same strategies. Teachers end up taking up the slack to provide support if the school does not
Colin Pierce, Coordinator of inclusive IB program at Rainier Beach High School: 100% of 11th and 12th graders at Rainier Beach are in IB Language and Literature. It has been an "incredible success." Scores are raising. They are treating all students as if they know something of value. Colin: We work in isolation with different efforts in different Seattle Schools. We need to connect to others so we're not reinventing the wheel, with District support.
What are the main challenges you see for the efforts at de-tracking in Seattle schools?
I suggest different schools start to talk to each other to share common experiences, including middle schools and at earlier ages. I'm sure the Seattle school district is concerned about inequitable educational opportunities and schools would benefit from a coordinated effort to provide an excellent education for all students.
What advice would you give for the de-tracking effort at Garfield specifically?
The program has learned a lot in their first year, and they should make assessments for future improvements. Some data could include discipline rates, class pass rates, or teacher and student surveys. A good system of professional development, teachers working together to assess their lessons and building up teacher-led learning are all helpful.
For another local interview, see the Seattle Times' Education Lab article.
May 23 - PTSA General Meeting, GHS Commons @ 7 - 8:30 PM
May 24, 25, 26, 27, 31 & June 1 & 3 - Spring Musical "In The Heights," Quincy Jones Center @ 7 PM
May 29 - No School, Memorial Day
June 1 - College Essays & ACT vs. SAT Presentation, GHS Library @ 6:30 - 8 PM
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