Michael Stein: School Committee member clarifies remarks about honors program

Published: 2/21/2022 6:00:38 PM

Editor’s note: School Committee member Michael Stein sent the following letter to several educators following the committee’s Feb. 10 meeting, days before they sent an open letter to the School Committee.

I am writing to clarify some of my remarks from the Feb. 10 School Committee meeting, as I believe they can be easily misinterpreted and taken out of context. Specifically, my description of first- and second-class learners in the embedded curriculum.

What I was referring to was the tracking of students into what I understand is a “standard” track and an “honors” track based on perceptions about ability, past academic achievement, etc. My concern is that by having both groups in one class, with clearly defined yet different expectations (rubrics) we reinforce to the groups of students that one group is more capable than the other.

This problem is not simply a problem in an embedded course, though I think it takes on heightened stakes in that context, but one of tracking in general. You may rightfully object to me using the phrase first- and second-class learners, but can you honestly say you are communicating anything differently to students by referring to them as standard and honors?

There is a lot of research showing the opportunity gaps created by tracking and that there can be emotional impacts as well. In my own experience as a high school student I was tracked at a lower level. What it told me was that I was not an honors student, that I couldn’t aspire to the standards they were being asked to meet and that I may go to college but shouldn’t shoot too high.

Certainly a lot has changed since I was in school but sorting students this way communicates quite a bit to them that is unspoken. In my case I was still able to complete an master’s of arts and PhD, but I wonder how different the path might have been to get there had I not internalized the messages of a lower track.

As a matter of fact, I do not think that there are first rate and second rate learners at the high school. I think that tracking produces that idea both for students and the institution and that explicitly making that clear in a single classroom is problematic. I think that the diverse talents of our students should be nurtured in ways that allow them all to reach their potential and see themselves as capable learners. As the father of a student with a learning disability, on an IEP, I see their tremendous potential despite these challenges. I know you believe this as well and I don’t question your commitment to our students’ education and well being.

Hopefully this email has alleviated any concerns my comments may have raised. If not, I am happy to participate, in a healing circle, with those who may be interested and also happy to communicate in other ways. I look forward to working with you all as a member of the School Committee and it would be a shame if this type of misunderstanding derailed that. Any suggestion that I am not a supporter of differentiated learning, meeting kids where they are, and giving all our students the resources they need to succeed is sorely wrong.

Please share this message with any department chairs I did not have contact information for and with other faculty and staff who may have been concerned with my comments .

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