No Honors For You!


katz (3)By Jeff Katz – July, 2013

I am happy to reflect on the fact that as a young man I was in a number of what were then called “advanced” courses. I excelled in English, history and social science and the Philadelphia school system provided me with an opportunity to delve deeper and more fully in to the subjects which really captured my attention. Similar opportunities were provided to students who had passions for math, biology, chemistry and the like. Some of the school districts in Pennsylvania referred to these courses as “honors” while some called them “advanced” or “accelerated” or “AP”. Whatever the name, the opportunity was presented for students to get additional education and encouragement.

Fast forward about forty years, and I find myself sitting in the library at Swampscott Middle School listening to the school’s principal and vice-principal lecture parents on why the decision to eliminate the seventh grade honors math course is somehow a very good thing.

Two days before the start of summer vacation, parents of students at Swampscott Middle School were invited to this special meeting called by the principal.

The reasoning behind this hastily arranged meeting seems to be that students had come home from school and told their parents that the seventh grade honors program in math had been eliminated. Students who had worked extremely hard through lower grades, consistently doing extra work in math and striving to achieve exceptional scores in both classroom testing and the MCAS assessments were now being told that their hard work was for naught. Students who were rightfully proud and happy knowing that they had earned the right to be placed in the seventh grade honors math class had those dreams squashed as they were being told that the entire program was slated to be dumped.

During the meeting, the principal repeatedly told parents that he and his math staff had discussed the elimination of the seventh grade honors math program throughout the school year. Why then, we as parents wanted to know, had he decided to spring this on us just 48 hours before the end of the school year?

Among the reasons stated as to why the seventh grade honors math class was being scratched were: not all students get in to it, some of the students who do get in to it are not really prepared for it and having the higher achieving students kept in the same class with lower achieving class was actually good for both of them. Perhaps the most surreal explanation came from the vice-principal who stated that the seventh grade honors math class was actually the same curriculum as the regular class but was presented at an accelerated pace, so it was “not really an honors course” and therefore should be ditched. He then followed that up by advising all of us that the eighth grade honors math course was the same curriculum as the regular class but presented at an accelerated pace and therefore was “really an honors course.”

Despite assurances from the principal that he was listening to parents and that all of these decisions would rest squarely on his shoulders, the message was clear, at least to me, that the decision to scuttle the seventh grade honors program in math had already been made long before this meeting and that no concrete plans had been established on training teachers how to effectively teach a brand new curriculum (the so-called CMP3) or to properly meet the needs of both under-performing and over-performing students in the same classroom.