Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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ETHS reinvents curriculum in the humanities

The Evanston Township High School Board of Education devoted the bulk of its Monday night meeting to the administration’s initiative to revamp the freshman humanities curriculum.

“We really do not plan on leaving any children behind,” said board member Mary Wilkerson. “This is the year that we must move.”

The curriculum overhaul, a response to the threat of government consequences after failing No Child Left Behind for five consecutive years, includes a revamp of freshman humanities courses.

Under the new plan, the majority of Evanston Township High School freshmen would be in “mixed honors” classes, which would bring average students and their honors-level peers together for advanced English and history curricula. The very top students would be in all-honors classes, and the lowest scorers would be taught a remedial, or “enriched,” curriculum.

ETHS District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon emphasized the school’s readiness to make the transition.

“Our teachers are just demonstrating exemplary leadership to make this as positive and productive as they can,” he said. “They really want to step it up.”

He was quick to allay fears about an informal survey of students, who suggested mixed honors classes were “easier.” In mixed honors classes, the advanced work was made more accessible but the difficulty level remained unchanged, Witherspoon said.

“Sometimes students’ interpretation of a question is maybe a little different than it’s being interpreted by the adults,” he said.

As in previous meetings, the issue proved divisive, and the board made a special departure from their agenda to allow more people in attendance to ask questions and express their opinions.

Deborah Graham, a member of the District 202 Parent Teacher Student Association, spoke in the public comment section of the meeting. She said that while she approved of the program in theory, she had reservations about how it might be implemented.

“I really am concerned about ETHS moving too quickly,” she said. “I commend it as a route to more rigor … but I am not at all convinced that the program will increase rigor. I’m concerned that the result will be mixed honors classes that aren’t really taught at a rigorous level.”

Local black activists praised the plan, saying it would challenge historically low-scoring minority students and spur them to achieve.

“This is a program and to my knowledge the first program that addresses the needs of students of color,” said Terri Shepard, chairwoman of the North Shore NAACP’s education committee. “What happens to these kids when they don’t have these challenges, they don’t have anybody to say, ‘You can do it?'”

ETHS administration will sponsor a community meeting Wednesday to further discuss the freshman curriculum changes. The board is slated to vote on the initiative March 10.

The board also:

– Discussed a new technology plan intended to help improve test scores. Tentative changes would include new software to gauge student improvement in math and English, giving students electronic “clickers” to let teachers do on-the-spot quizzes in the classroom, and installing computer stations throughout Evanston so parents without computers at home could access online resources.

– Approved a resolution supporting the Evanston Downtown Plan, a City Council initiative meant to encourage development in the downtown area.

The majority of District 202’s funding comes from property taxes, and ETHS research has found that the school stands to get about $50 million in new taxes from potential development.

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ETHS reinvents curriculum in the humanities