I went to a public high school in the heart of an ever-growing city. It was often viewed as the most underprivileged of the four high schools in the city. It was the oldest by far and looked it (the closest thing to a renovation it had was a fresh coat of paint on the halls once every decade or so), served free lunches to all of its students because of the high percentage of students below the line of poverty, and experienced gun related lockdowns multiple times a month. One of the other high schools in our area was freshly built, walking distance from an elementary and middle school, and in a more affluent neighborhood.These discrepancies caused my high school to look for ways to be competitive in the hopes of attracting both teachers and students.
They found a way, but the purpose of the solution is unclear. Was the school finding new ways to better students’ education, or simply bettering the school’s image?
Here’s the solution:
For freshman and sophomore years all of the student took core classes that were offered at the regular and honors level, with the exception of a few that didn’t have the honors option. Junior year all students had the option of applying to join the “Lyceum Academy.” 100 students each year were accepted into Lyceum. In this program the students would come in an hour early and take classes from 7:30-12 secluded from the rest of the school.
Lyceum attracted the “best” teachers in the school because the structure encouraged collaboration, creativity, and alternative teaching methods. There are four teachers per grade (a ratio of 1:25 which is much lower than many other classes in the general school) that rotate in order to stay with their students for both junior and senior year. The four teachers specify in math, science, english, and history work together to create lesson plans that compliment each other and focus on central topics that incorporate all four subjects.
Students are attracted to the program because it is known for being challenging and attractive to colleges. Also. the four classes offered each year in Lyceum are at the AP level, so not only will colleges like seeing the academy on an application, but students have the opportunity to earn college credit for eight classes.
Here is the controversy:
Is it right for the school to seclude a portion of its students, identified as the smartest through the application process, and assign them the perceived best teachers in the school? In a school facing challenges such as poverty and violence, is it beneficial for all students to segregate the top of the class?
I was once told that the best way to learn is in groups, no matter what your level of knowledge on the subject is. If you are struggling you can learn from those who are more knowledgeable and if you (think) you are succeeding at the subject teaching someone else is the best way to solidify your understanding or discover areas that could use help.
I think that while my high school may have been trying to find a solution to challenge students at different levels, separating them so divisively is not the right answer. I feel rather than encouraging progress in all students academic careers, this focuses on choosing students who have stereotypically higher performances already, isolating them, and giving them the best resources while not implementing anything to improve the resources and environment for the rest of the students.
In all, I think that this type of program is utilized by my high school, and probably others, in order to improve their national ranking and the public’s perception of the school, but it doesn’t really address the underlying issues.