Red Apple Mom

July 20, 2011

Fairfax County School Board’s Discussion on Honors Courses

School Board Work Session

Someone wasn’t prepared for class Monday!

Monday’s School Board work session (7.18.11) on the Honors issue ran for two hours. It could have been more productive if Peter Noonan, the Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services, had come prepared for the same discussion many School Board members – and members of the public –  thought they came for.

Some attendees thought the discussion would focus on curriculum choices that best serve all FCPS students.  Noonan’s presentation instead focused on why FCPS believes a two-tiered curriculum best serves underrepresented minority students.

Patty Reed

When Noonan finished his presentation, Patty Reed -who represents the Providence District – stated, “I’m very troubled…this is not an objective analysis.  I would throw out this presentation and start over…present the pros and cons of a three-tier curriculum and see how many other school systems offer three tiers.” 

Dr. Dale stated, “You raised a different question than what we came for.  That wasn’t today’s presentation.”

Reed replied,“This is what makes me most upset.  That is a decision that should be made by this Board.  We never had that discussion (to remove Honors courses from the curriculum).” 

Dan Storck of the Mount Vernon District told Noonan that he did not understand FCPS’ assertion that the curriculum for standard level, Honors and AP courses is essentially the same.  Noonan later stated, “So why have a middle choice (Honors) when the classes are the same?”

The problem is that all students are not the same.  Some students are not ready or prepared to take multiple, college level AP courses.  Although the curriculum for the three tiers may be similar, the classroom expectations between standard level, Honors and AP courses are vastly different.   Why not have a middle option to serve all levels of learners who want a rigorous, yet balanced course load?

FCPS’ excuse was to cite College Board marketing materials which claim that students who score a 1-2 on the AP exams are better prepared for college. (College Board is the organization that prepares and sells the AP curriculum to thousands of high schools across the country.) 

At-Large School Board Member Tina Hone didn’t buy the argument.

She asked, “Is it better for a kid to take the AP class and fail the exam or take the Honors class and pass?”

FCPS’ curriculum expert Noonan said, “The AP class.”

Hone quickly pulled out a Harvard study demonstrating that students who passed Honors courses did better in college than kids who got a failing 1-2 grade on the AP test.

Hone stated, “This (study) runs a bit counter to what you guys are saying.   It’s saying the Honors kids are doing well.  This is the kind of data we need to make decisions on.” 

She’s right.

FCPS would like the focus of this debate to stay on underrepresented minorities and closing the achievement gap.  But here is the reality:  Limited curriculum choices are not helping our students overall.

While there has been a small increase in the number of FCPS minority students who are taking AP courses, it is clear that a much greater number of FCPS students are now relegated to Standard Level (gen ed) courses because FCPS has removed the Honors option and these students can’t afford the stress that comes with a full plate of AP courses.

Bottom line – Honors courses provide rigor for all student groups – no matter what their ethnicity or socio-economic background.  The learning potential of the overall student body should not be sacrificed so that FCPS can artificially close the achievement gap.

FCPS should focus on what’s best for ALL students.  Bring back the upper-level, high-school Honors courses FCPS and continue encouragement of minority participation in both AP and Honors courses.  That would truly be a win-win for all FCPS students!

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July 7, 2011

FCPS Flexing Its Muscle to Kill Upper-Level Honors Courses

Fairfax County Public Schools is exerting its muscle in trying to kill the effort by parents and teachers (and privately some principals) to re-institute upper-level, high school honors courses for 11th and 12th graders.

The most critical point now is this:

  • FCPS officials are misleading School Board members by telling them that 100% of FCPS high school principals across the county are on board with FCPS’ phase-out of these upper level, high school honors courses.  However, some high school principals are privately reaching out and telling FAIRGRADE they want to KEEP these classes.  They know these classes benefit our student population across the board.

I will not identify who these principals are because they justifiably fear the Superintendent’s powerful machine.  Dale and company hold the careers of these principals in their hands.  Last spring, we saw negative repercussions for teachers at West Potomac High School who publicly spoke out in support of keeping these Honors courses.  So who could blame these principals for wanting to remain anonymous?

It’s a sorry state of affairs that this fine school district conducts business this way.  School Board members can still get to the TRUTH  and bypass  Superintendent Jack Dale’s iron fist if they really want to.

One option for School Board members is this:  Reach out and speak privately and directly with as many FCPS high school principals as possible before the July 18th work session on this issue.  Solicit their views and assure these principals that their identities will remain private so as not to jeopardize their careers.

With hope,  enough School Board members will see FCPS’ attempts to whitewash the truth and rise to the moment – as they did when they agreed to change FCPS’ grading policies in 2009.  They told the Superintendent NO then – and they should do it again.

Right now, our great school district is on the edge of a curriculum cliff.  FCPS can offer fewer options that serve fewer students or they can offer a three-tiered curriculum, including Honors courses, that gives students a wider range of learning options.

In this case, more is better and FAIRGRADE has the facts to prove this point.

School Board members – please pick up the phone and reach out to our high school principals.  Don’t take this school district over the cliff without the facts.  FCPS’ all-out pursuit to close the achievement gap should not be done at the expense of FCPS’s reputation to deliver a quality education to ALL students.

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