Here are two stories from the December 23, 2005, issue of the West HS student newspaper, The Regent Review. I reprint them here just as they appear in print (that is, with all misspellings, grammatical errors, etc.). (Note: the faculty advisor for The Regent Review is West HS English teacher Mark Nepper. Mr. Nepper has been involved in the development of English 10. Some of you may recall that Mr. Nepper joined English Department chair Keesia Hyzer in presenting the plans for English 10 at the November 7 West PTSO meeting.)
From the front page: “A new English 10 expected for next year,” by CI, a senior at West HS and co-editor of the student newspaper:
In an attempt to bridge the minority gap and continue with the smaller learning communities, Madison West High will tentativly be changing to a core English for all sophomores.
Ed Holmes, current West High principal, says he is doing his best to continue our tradition as a “School of Excellence.” To achieve this ideal excellence, Holmes recognizes that he not only has to raise the standards of the struggling students but also continue to push accelerated students to be better each day.
The goal is to have this new English ciriculum continue to push West’s excellence. The cirriculum will incorporate the current classes of FWW, IWW, With Justice for All, Writers in their Time, and Modern Literture. Now students will read and learn writing habits at the same time so that they can incorporate the new techniques that they are learning into the papers that they write.
During the first semester, all sophomores will learn the same material and read the same books at the same time. The 2nd semester will also include a Shakespeare festival. That semester, however, will give the students a choice between the themes of justice or identity. The students who choose justice will read more books from the current course With Justice for All while the students who choose identity will read books from Modern Literature.
At this point about 80% of sophomores take the five classes that are being eliminated to form English 10 and only about 35 sophomores take an honors English class. These statistics show that even when given a choice, most sophomores would choose classes that are now incorporated into English 10.
Because these five courses will be included into one, they will be eliminated from the elective choices. The first two years that this program is implemented, certain students will miss out on the opportunity to read those books but after that they will have already read them in English 10.
As with all changes, there are many people who are against the new core English 10. A major fear is that 10th grade English will be too hard for the struggling students and too easy for the accelerated ones.
English department chair Keesia Hyzer says that “West is a different school than it was 30 years ago,” and it is time for West to look at how it teaches. She continues by giving statistics that West is currently a 40/60 ration minority to white, illustrating this difference.
Cindy Neusen, an English teach at West, agrees, saying that it is an “opportunity to make changes.” Neusen recognizes that structure and consistancy is a positive thing and that it is currently not being reached with the electives in 10th grade.
Holmes states that it is impossible to implement the SLC’s and have the English department work the way that West currently does with 26 electives. “We are trying to create a course that is engaging and rigerous” he says.
The key to success behind this program is the idea of collaboration. Without the English staff working together, this project will never get off the ground. Neusen states that “colaboration between the staff brings a lot of good things.”
Holmes also uses the word “Colloboration” frequently, emphasizing the idea that the school needs to work together to make SLC’s work.
Another positive that will come from the English 10 class is the extended amount of time that a student and teacher will have together. Sophomores “will see the same people and the same teacher for a year,” says Neusen. “It takes about six weeks to get to know a student” and then after a semester you might never see them again. By having the same teacher for an entire year, the sophomore will be able to form a better bond with their English teacher, hopefully increasing their success since they won’t have to get used to an entirely new class at semester.
Although all students are able to take whatever English class they want to, the student body knows what classes are going to be challenging and which ones you won’t have to attend. They also know which teacher will give the A and which teacher you will have to work hard for a B. The English 10 ciriculum will eliminate this “tracking or self selecting below ability” says Neusen.
Many students have heard rumors about an honors component being added during students’ lunch period. This rumor is, however, false. The English department is still working on the plan for the English 10 class, but there will not be an honors component added that requires students to give up a lot of their lunch time. Students who are struggling will be expected to seek help when they can, which may be during the one hour lunch, but that is an expectation in all classes, not solely an English 10 concept.
There are still many questions that will need to be answered. Steve olson, an English teacher at West High, is still skeptical about many aspects of how English 10 will work. His questions include: Who is making the decisions? How will they incorporate a fair honors component into this English program? Has the 9th grade core English worked well? How will this change effect what other departments at West are doing?
The staff working on this project is still pondering many of these questions, trying to find an acceptable answer that will lead to success. Holmes states that he is still looking at the question of “What should West be like?…As a school evolves we need to be reflective.”
And from page 5, an opposing piece by West HS junior SB:
“West does not need a unified English 10: Student Response”
Our West High School is famous nationwide for its superb achievement levels in English largely because of our highly skilled teachers and the wide breadth of courses they offer. We have woven together an outstanding program of studies we should be proud of, one that has worked admirably for decades. However, the new Small Learning Community program wants to cut it down to size by snipping away at sophomores’ right to choose their courses.
The plan, which is roughly outlined in the November 7 report from the West PTSO meeting (located at the following website: http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2005/11/report_from_wes.php), is to replace the wide range of classes sophomores can choose from with a single class called “English 10.”
The new English 10 class is designed to cram FWW, IWW, Modern Literature, Writers in Their Times, and With Justice for All into a year-long course that every sophomore will have to take. This means that each course will include both students who may need extra help and students who won’t be sufficiently challenged.
Naturally, any such program where students of such different levels are required to be in the same class will be problematic. The result will be that those that are already behind will slip even further behind because the course work is too challenging, and those who are already advanced will be bored utterly out of their minds. The average students will not receive the attention they need and deserve because the teacher is too busy attending to the needs of the rest of this students.
The supposed goal for this program is to “close the achievement gap,” but placing students in an environment where no one benefits is not the way to go about it. In the end, no one wins; the students will suffer academically, and the teachers will have to work much harder.
The administration has tried to toss a few paltry bones at those concerned that many students’ needs won’t be met by suggesting that students who don’t feel challenged can meet during lunch for extra study time! This is ridiculous — no student would willingly give up their lunch hour for extra studying, and, even if they did, lunchtime is a valuable time for students to relax, eat, and hang out, in addition to studying and seeking help from teachers.
Even ignoring all this, what plans has the program made to accommodate students who might find the class too challenging? None.
In fact, the new standard curriculum itself is the most damaging of all. The literature is selected from an extremely narrow range; virtually all of it is American, and deals with the themes of either multiculturalism or oppression.
In addition, there is considerable emphasis placed on topics every single student in the class will have already been thoroughly grounded in: basic grammar and basic essay formats. Indeed, ingraining such rigid essay formats in the students’ minds is actually thought to lock away much of their creativity, and in more advanced writing courses teachers frequently have to struggle to leech away the damage that has already been done.
The only flaw with this program is not only that it will wreak serious havoc in students’ academic careers, but also that it will be much less enjoyable for the students. Students are not just inanimate objects rolling along an assembly line — they are people and have their own interests they want to pursue, and when they get to choose their own courses they can select classes that will interest them and help them realize their own goals. By establishing English 10, the administration, is unwillingly making West a much less enjoyable place.
I have a younger sister who will be attending West in a few years, and I hope that she will be able to receive the same excellent education that my classmates and I are. But if the students lose the right to chose their 10th grade English education, that future grows a little furthe away.