Arlington School Committee Approves ‘Heterogeneous’ Pilot Program Combining Honors and Non-Honors Classes

Printed from:

Arlington High School plans to start a pilot program to combine honors and non-honors classes next school year, after a close vote approving the proposal.

The Arlington School Committee voted 4-3 last week to approve heterogeneous grouping by combining all freshmen into what the school will call “honors” English language arts classes next school year, as opposed to separating students according to skill and achievement.

The vote comes after more than a year of advocacy by administrators, teachers, and some members of the school committee, which oversees the town’s public schools.

Supporters said the current system results in too much of a difference in education between honors and non-honors students.

“What I have been hearing from families, especially those of high achievers, the concern about the amount of differentiation in our student’s education and a need for improving it …” Arlington superintendent of schools Elizabeth Homan said before the vote.

Homan and Arlington High School principal Matthew Janger’s written proposal says the current system amounts to inequitable education.

“We acknowledge that the equity challenges we are seeking to address with initiatives such as the one in this proposal are, at their core, systemic in nature,” Janger and Homan’s proposal to the Arlington School Committee states.

Opponents described the heterogeneous-grouping proposal as an unproven scheme that lacks widespread buy-in among students and parents.

School Committee member Jane Morgan, who voted against the proposal, called the process “a shame.” Morgan, who has a child in the school system, said school administrators and other supporters made only a semblance of trying to gather support for the proposal.

“I think that it’s too bad that there is a willingness on the part of a very very new administration to do something without the support of the community,” Morgan said during the online school committee meeting, which took place Thursday, April 14.

The committee chairman, William Hayner, who voted for the heterogeneous-grouping proposal, said he has received negative email messages from parents and other residents, but he said he hadn’t received a single email message from a student opposing the idea, and he said there is support for it among students.

Committee member Leonard Kardon, who voted no, said students who oppose combining honors and non-honors classes feel constricted against speaking out.

“We definitely are hearing from a lot of students who support this, but I think the ones who don’t support it are feeling social pressure not to openly comment in a way that may be perceived as racist or unpopular,” Kardon said.

Another opponent, school committee member Jeff Thielman, said Arlington spends less per pupil than the state average, but would need to increase spending significantly to successfully pull off heterogeneous grouping, which he suggested would require more teachers and teacher’s assistants to allow for smaller class sizes. That’s not possible, because the school district’s budget for the 2022-2023 school year is already set, he said.

Next year’s freshmen amount to guinea pigs, he said.

“This will be an experiment on 375 students in ninth grade at Arlington High representing an entire year of their four years of high school. I suggested a smaller pilot … some of those 375 students will have a better experience; some will not,” Thielman said.

A supporter, school committee member Kristi Allison-Ampe, said he is optimistic that teachers who are enthusiastic to teach honors students will be able to share that enthusiasm with non-traditional honors students as well. 

School committee member Paul Schlictman, who also voted yes, said the plan is a “very modest proposal involving ninth grade English. We are not going to go and bring this into calculus this year.”

He said a number of teachers in Arlington are excited about heterogeneous grouping.

“I think something very special could happen here… I’m going yes,” Schlichtman said.  

Voting yes were school committee chairman William Hayner, committee vice chairman Liz Exton, and committee members Kristi Allison-Ampe and Paul Schlichtman.

Voting no were school committee members Leonard Kardon, Jane Morgan, and Jeff Thielman.


New to NewBostonPost?  Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts.  But you’ve found it.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.