Is Academic Excellence Losing Importance in Fairfield's Public Schools?
I recently read that Fairfield's administrators axed another honors course -- seventh grade English at all three middle schools. This year's surprise is just another instance of our one-size-fits-all educators stripping away programs for academically high achieving kids.
Here's a short list of Fairfield's recent unilateral cuts now being phased in:
"¢ Honors English cut (seventh grade)
"¢ Honors Spanish and French cut (ninth grade) -- now every ninth grade (third year) foreign language class is cleverly called "honors"
"¢ Honors Spanish and French cut (12th grade)
"¢ Accelerated Math cut -- no dedicated class for accelerated students (sixth through eighth )
"¢ Math groupings cut from three instructional levels to two (sixth through 12th grades)
"¢ English groupings cut from three instructional levels to two (ninth grade)
"¢ Science groupings cut from three instructional levels to two (ninth grade)
"¢ Devaluation of AP courses by reducing the grade point weighting
"¢ Gifted & Talented program? Does this even exist in any meaningful form?
Shouldn't a good school system provide an appropriate level of education for all students? While Superintendent Dr. Ann Clark and the Board of Education keep requesting bigger budgets, services for high achievers continue to decline.
Our Central Office despots defend dropping English honors telling parents that everyone benefits from heterogeneous groupings. But, where's their proof?
Fairfield's administrators have never analyzed the effects of these rapid-fire changes. Without data -- including studying the effects of these cuts on the high achieving students -- administrators' claims are pure ideological baloney.
Our athletic teams certainly don't buy into heterogeneous groupings. Tryouts and cuts to select high achievers rule our teams -- and, theatrical productions and musical performances, too.
Meanwhile, combining instructional levels affects all kids' learning. With fewer placement options for students including those with intensive needs, teachers and parents are lamenting the increased frustrations and lowered expectations in Fairfield's classrooms. With more students waived into the remaining "honors" classes, even veteran teachers are having a tough time covering curriculum and meeting diverse learning needs.
Our students -- both those not adequately challenged and those struggling to keep up with inappropriately paced instruction -- are shortchanged everyday. Kids in the throes of difficult adolescence who feel their gifts are not valued may suffer psychologically as well as academically. We have all watched as bored students and struggling students lose interest in school and seek out other sources of stimulation, like risk taking behavior in and out of the classroom.
Fortunately, restoring services to high achievers will not lead to pigeon-holing students into tracks with ill-fitting expectations in Fairfield. Continual student assessments should be expected in our schools because our budgets support reasonable class sizes, a dedicated teaching staff, and middle school teams which allow teachers across disciplines to assess student learning. Fairfield's strong history of parental involvement, too, helps ensure proper placement.
If our well-funded public schools are unable to continually evaluate students' learning needs, then our administrators need to fix this assessment and articulation process -- not cut academic opportunities.
By definition, our top performing academic kids will always be a minority. Who will protect their interests and provide them with appropriate educational opportunities? Certainly, our current administrators are not doing that job.
Elise Epner, a former chairman of the RTM Education Committee and a parent of three Fairfield public schools graduates, is an educational consultant specializing in college and graduate school admissions in Fairfield.