Ed Chambers, is a 20-year teaching veteran, and a 2012-2013 Teach for America Alumni in Excellence Teaching Award recipient and Teacher of the Year at his school. Ed will be speaking at Teach For America’s inaugural Alumni Awards and Educators Conference in Detroit on July 18, 2013. The conference gathers alumni teachers, school leaders and school systems leaders from across the country fora day of networking and professional development. Travel stipends are available. Alumni educators: register today.
As a member of Eastern North Carolina’s 1992 corps and a 20-year veteran teacher, I have weathered many trends in education. The latest push to eliminate honors classes in favor of a two-track system is under-serving many good, solid students.
In my previous school, there were eight sections of AP (Advanced Placement) English Literature. Students had the option to sign up for my course, honors, or college preparatory English courses. [Note: “College preparatory” refers to basic instruction courses.] The honors classes were a great option, because those courses provided skills necessary for college without overwhelming students who lacked preparation for the rigor of AP courses.
Then, in 2010, the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department Education began issuing guidance letters to school districts and postsecondary institutions around issues of fairness and equity and conducting compliance reviews to ensure that all students had equal access to educational opportunities, including college-prep curricula and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes.
The push to make sure students were receiving a fair and equitable education prompted many schools to eliminate honors course options in order to nudge more “honors capable” students into AP courses. The hope was that by granting AP course access to these students it would cause them to become even better prepared for college as they rose to meet the challenge of the more rigorous course.
However, that is not what I see happening. In her 1985 book, Keeping Track, Jeanie Oakes’ argues that tracking and ability grouping reproduce and perpetuate inequality. With no middle ground to choose from, the elimination of honors courses is prompting some of our best and brightest to relegate themselves to standard instruction “college preparatory” classes far more often, than they scale up to AP. Or, they jump from the college preparatory track to the AP course with no net to catch them if they fall.
Photo provided by Edward Chambers