And the (West HS English 10) beat goes on …”

Here is the email I wrote earlier today to Ed Holmes, Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, Mary Gulbrandsen, and the seven members of the BOE, followed by the reply I just received from Ed Holmes:
I wrote:
Hello, everyone. I wonder if one of you would please send us a status report on the plans for 10th grade English at West for next year? Many of us have written to you multiple times about this matter, but without any reply. We are trying to be patient, polite, collaborative and upbeat (despite the fact that we are feeling frustrated, ignored and stonewalled).
Specifically, would one of you please tell us:

1) what will be printed in the 2006-07 West course catalogue about 10th grade English? (when is the printer deadline, by the way? has it already passed? if so, please send us a copy of the text that will appear for the English Department course offerings)
2) when will an English 10 update be posted on the West website? (we were told it would be there early this week — it’s still not)
3) when will we be provided with West HS and MMSD data that support this proposal as a way to address the low achievement in English for some groups of West students (as described and defined in the West SLC report on English 10)?
4) when will we be provided with the citations for the empirical studies upon which this proposal — and the apparent District-wide move to heterogeneous classes in our middle and high schools — is being based? (presumably you have already done a literature search on this topic, so a reference list must exist somewhere that can easily be sent to us)
5) we heard a rumor almost two weeks ago that the English 10 curriculum will be tried as a pilot project only next year; is that true? (we have written to several of you, asking specifically about that rumor; but no one has replied)
6) has anyone followed through on my idea to connect with Emily Auerbach and the Odyssey Project (, either for West only or for the District, generally?
Thanks for getting back to us with the answers to these questions as soon as possible.

I received the following reply from Ed Holmes
We had hoped to have the information regarding English 10 online early this week. We are still working on the final piece of information before it is to go out to the public. We are really close. We have a number of people reviewing the plan to be sure all aspects of the proposal are clear and correct. We have not submitted anything that will be an official course description for English 10 at this time. I know the course of study deadline is of concern but we will delay its submission until we have all the accurate information needed.
This process is one where we must be meticulous. What we say must be clear and accurately reflect our plan. Anything that comes from West High school becomes part of the public domain. It is not only a reflection of me but everyone who is a part of the West High school community. I cannot release the information until it complete.
I appreciate your patience and understand your frustration in this challenging process.
Ed Holmes, Principal
West High School

5 thoughts on “And the (West HS English 10) beat goes on …””

  1. Sounds like you’re going to get a finished project cast in stone, Laurie.
    Ed Holmes’ answer doesn’t explain why West and the MMSD can’t give you the research and emperical studies on which the English Curriculum Reduction Plan is supposedly based, leaving us to assume that West and the MMSD can find no nothing to support the plan.
    Similarly, why doesn’t he say whether anyone followed through on your “idea to connect with Emily Auerbach and the Odyssey Project (, either for West only or for the District, generally?”

  2. Data supporting the educational trend toward increasing access to college-prep core curriculum through core courses and small learning communities is available on this blog (Dec. 14 post) from The Education Trust. These study findings, along with numerous studies from the Education Trust, focus on the need to expand access to college-prep courses for all students, with appropriate supports in place to differentiate for all types of learners.
    Jonathan Kozal’s new book (and many of his earlier works) also document the critical need for all populations to access offerings that traditionally have been reserved for the highest echelon of students.
    The American College Testing Board (ACT) also points to a strong correlation between exposure to core college prep coursework and higher test scores. It’s important to note that more students in MMSD are taking the ACT test each year (74% this past year), and so must be prepared with high-level coursework.
    No one who publicly voiced concerns at the November PTSO meeting about the proposed course took issue with its depth, breadth or rigor. Rather, it was the make-up of the classes that seemed to trouble people. However, the newest research in education is suggesting that almost all students are potentially college material. Even those who do not pursue college are shown to benefit from high expectations. For those interested in specific research articles on this issue, I can obtain them from the Council on Exceptional Children journals in my office.

  3. Beth,
    Do you think the reports from the Education Trust support or contradict the plans at West?

  4. Regarding access to college prep courses for all students. . perhaps we could consider offering AP courses at all high schools. The breadth of topics could be strong preparation for all students interested in college, even if they do not pass the AP exams.

  5. The issue of taking “college prep” courses is especially critical for those who are, in fact, not going to college. Those who do go to college will again have an opportunity to relearn the important skills that a well-taught and thoughtful curriculum will offer.
    For kids who will not be continuing their formal education, they may never again have the opportunity to be exposed the skills and knowledge which a good education offers.
    However, at the November PTSO meeting, I essentially voiced concerns over the depth, breadth and rigor. A sheet of paper saying they will “cover” this material says nothing about the actual quality of the curriculum. One can “cover” this material like much material is covered today, a mile wide and an inch deep.
    As Bruce King’s draft indicated, what West did discuss was “process” and pedagogy. To quote King’s memo concerning what the appropriate analysis of the curriculum should contain:
    “2) Continuous improvement and revision of course curriculum. This activity not only addresses topics and readings (e.g., how much Shakespeare? are non-white authors sufficiently represented?), but also should consider
    ***what the “enduring” understandings, skills, and themes are that are targeted for student learning and how to get there.***
    It was noted that the typical conversations around curriculum rarely get to these issues; they are abstract and philosophical or at the level of content coverage.” (***my emphasis)
    Nor did West have in place any enforcement/comparison mechanism to ensure that when the door is closed, all kids will be getting the appropriate rigor and coverage — for example, all homework should be the same, the same rubric must be used to evaluate student’s work, weekly assessments of student progress should be the same, etc.
    Ed, you did a marvelous job, in a blog entry, of dealing with King’s 3rd analysis requirement, showing that West, in fact, would have no resources to deal with the students occupying either tail of the bell curve.
    Further, with the lack of rigor, students occupying any region of the bell curve would likely not be getting a year’s worth of education.

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