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By Eva Frankel
There is a very emotional debate taking place right now regarding the "tracking" of students into honors classes at Harwood Union. These homogenous classes concentrate students along lines of perceived ability levels, but they also have the tendency to group students along socio-economic lines and dilute the educational environment for students who are considered "average learners." They can also potentially push students who may not be truly qualified into honors classes, for the perceived social/peer group benefits.
As our nation grows more polarized into the haves and have-nots, so do our schools with what appears to be an impenetrable achievement gap. Vermont's new secretary of education calls public education the "civil rights issue of our time" and as a true public school advocate, I couldn't agree more. I applaud our administrators for taking up the moral charge in considering how to deliver the best quality education to all children and not just those at the top and for examining the heterogeneous classroom as an option. Several schools in Vermont have already adopted this approach, such as Montpelier High School, Champlain Valley Union, Williamstown, Colchester, Milton, Vergennes and Mount Mansfield Union. U32 is making the shift for the 2014-2015 school year as well. Of course, the devil will be in the details and the art of execution, but it is an important dialogue worth having.
When I attended the Harwood Union School Board meeting on December 18, I was able to hear the passionate voices of our educators who have seen our community school become more and more divided. They supported a paradigm shift that delivered robust educational opportunities in a dynamic classroom environment that raised the bar for all children in our school. Just because honors classes are the way we have delivered education to our top learners doesn't mean that is the only way.
This Valley often prides itself on its progressive perspectives, out-of-the-box thinking and community- oriented approach and what I am sadly witnessing is that when push comes to shove, the conversation is all about our individual children and their race to the top without any concern for who is left behind in their wake. I, for one, am open to the difficult discussion, with egos set aside, about educational quality for all.
Eve Frankel is a Waitsfield School Board member.