Are Honors Classes Racist?
High Expectations For All Students is the Way to Beat Achievement Gaps
by Chantal Van Ginkel, age 18
Historically, Madison West High School has not had a spotless record regarding race relations. Before and during the 1990’s, the school was accused by some of segregation. Most white students had their lockers on the second floor, while most minority students used lockers on the ground floor.
To the school’s credit, changes in policies have greatly improved a once hostile environment. Some of these changes include getting rid of remedial classes, and implementing SLC’s or Small Learning Communities.
A more recent change, however, has sparked controversy and heated debate. Madison West High School plans to largely eliminate honors classes. This is part of an attempt to provide equal opportunity for all students by homogenizing their classroom experience.
At one time, this might have been a good step toward desegregation of West’s student body. It is not a good idea now.
To some extent, enrollment in honors courses at all Madison high schools is racially segregated. Affluent students and white students take advanced courses much more frequently than other students.
But in my opinion, the lack of more rigorous courses is a problem. It is a problem for all students at West. Many parents, students and some faculty share this sentiment.
Recently, a petition signed by over a hundred West attendance area parents requested that 9th and 10th grade honors classes be reinstated. When Superintendent Dan Nerad took steps to make this happen, some members of the West High teaching staff spoke up. They asserted that honors classes are racist. The project to reinstate advanced course offerings for West’s freshman and sophomores was then abandoned.
Honors classes, in and of themselves, are not inherently racist. Rather, the expectation that only certain students will take these classes is the problem. The fact that too many minority students end up in remedial courses is racist, but eliminating rigorous courses is not the answer.
As writers for this newspaper have said many times, the real racism is the cancer of low expectations. High expectations for all of our students is how we will beat the achievement gap in local schools. Low expectations will only make our problem worse.