Open IB / English Honors for All
Dear GW Community –
Last week our School Leadership Team, a group of colleague-elected teaching faculty and administrative leaders, finalized two key decisions that will begin to address the gaps in opportunity for our students and change the long history of racial and economic segregation at George Washington High School. First, our International Baccalaureate courses will be open to any student. While our IB Diploma Program will remain in place, it is no longer a prerequisite that students be seeking an IB Diploma in order to take an IB course. Second, all incoming 9th graders will be enrolled in English 1 Honors. Both of these initiatives will begin in the 2020-2021 school year.
When we ask our students what they value most about George, their reply is often led with a testament to the powerful impact of belonging to this diverse community. Indeed, our students come from families representing over 60 countries of origin and we hear dozens of languages spoken in our halls every day. However, when we step into a classroom at George, gone is the treasured diversity that is a hallmark of the George community.
Demographically, George’s student body is 39% White, 28% Hispanic, 22% Black, while 50% of our students receive Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL). In stark contrast, however, our 9th grade honors classrooms are 62% white, 14% Hispanic, and 11% black, while our IB Diploma Program for juniors and seniors is 65% White, 12% Hispanic, and 9% Black. While we can’t measure the diversity of socioeconomic status in our classrooms due to federal confidentiality protections, we do know that FRL students are not proportionally represented in all of our classrooms. In short, the demographic composition of our classrooms and advanced academic programs does not mirror that of our student body, and that division begins in 9th grade. In 2019, 65 years after Brown v. Board of Education, our students are attending class in a racially and economically segregated learning environment. While we have met small successes in the past five years with broadened access to our honors and IB programs, there has been no measurable shift in the outcomes for our historically underserved students (see page 2).
We believe not only that every student deserves a rigorous education, but also they deserve to be immersed in a learning environment that is diverse in culture, language, experience, origin, and beliefs. We must do more to make this belief a meaningful reality for all of our students.
9TH GRADE ENGLISH HONORS FOR ALL
By enrolling each of our 9th graders in English 1 Honors, we are joining other Denver area high schools such as East High School, North High School, and Northfield High School in setting high expectations for every student. Research has shown that when students are placed in a heterogenous classroom and given access to a rigorous curriculum, all students experience measurable gains in achievement.
Three years ago the GW English department aligned their English 1 and English 1 Honors classes. Students of all abilities were provided with the same rigorous and engaging curriculum in 9th grade, and outcomes improved across the board. In the years since this shift we have seen a measurable increase in 10th grade English honors enrollment. This re-calibration, paired with a passionate team of 9th grade teachers who believe in their students, made the English department a natural fit for an Honors for All course for 9th graders.
In order for this new program to be successful, it is imperative that we provide students with robust, innovative, and targeted academic support that is built into their school day. As we continue to plan for the ‘20-’21 school year, we will be restructuring our school resources to strengthen support for our 9th graders. We are committing to class sizes no larger than 25 students for our 9th grade core-contents to promote meaningful relationships between teachers and students and create an environment where teachers are empowered to differentiate their instruction. To support our teachers, we are mapping out additional time for planning, collaboration and training.
IB has a long history at George Washington High School. As one of the oldest IB diploma programs in Colorado, GW IB has existed largely unchanged for decades. With a reputation for being academically, racially, and socially insulated, the program has been described as “a school within a school.” Five years ago our community worked to broaden IB access by shifting the decision to enter the program to students’ sophomore year, instead of 8th grade. While this was a step in the right direction, it did little to change the demographic composition of GW IB. Our students of color still face significant hurdles to feeling a sense of belonging in a program that has served predominantly white students for over 30 years.
We believe offering the option for students to take individual IB courses will increase diverse thoughts and perspectives in the classroom, furthering the GW and IB mission to cultivate lifelong learners who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. We will continue to offer a robust IB diploma program, dedicating resources to a full time IB Program Manager, professional development for teachers, and high expectations for all students enrolled in IB courses.
Both of these initiatives, 9th Grade English Honors for All and Open IB, took root last spring when our community came together in collaboration on the One George 2019 strategic planning process. This past summer, following recommendations from the Patriot Pathways committee, we began examining what it would require to open the IB program further and also enroll each of our freshmen in at least one honors course. We met with over 350 students to hear their opinions and concerns. We visited other schools with these programs to understand where they are experiencing success, and what challenges they are facing. We met with our academic departments to play through the implications of these initiatives. By engaging these stakeholder groups throughout this process, we feel confident that we have the support of our community as we implement these initiatives in ‘20-’21.
We must continue the important work of dismantling systemic racism, segregation, and inequity in education, and specifically at George Washington High School. While this may feel to some as a large shift in our school’s educational infrastructure, this is a relatively small, albeit significant, step in a much larger process. The system as it exists today does not meet the needs of all of our students and we, the teachers, leaders, parents, students, and community members, have the power to change that reality.
Let’s get to work.
Kristin Waters, Ph.D.
Principal | George Washington High School