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Seattle High School Explores The Merits Of Honors Classes For All; Can One Size Fit Every Student?

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Teachers wearing "Black Lives Matter" t-shirts join with students at a rally Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at Garfield High School in Seattle.

This school year, Seattle’s Garfield High School embarked on a new path. All students are now automatically placed in honors humanities classes, regardless of test scores. Some see this step toward “detracking” in public schools as a negative, because it eliminates gifted or accelerated programs.  But others see it as a way to increase racial diversity while serving all kids equally.

Advocates for detracking say it’s less about taking opportunities away from some high-achieving students than it is about leveling the playing field for all kids at school. By getting rid of barriers, like testing, they say, more kids — especially students of color or those struggling with poverty — will have exposure to the rigor that is associated with honors classes.  

Former teacher and principal Carol Burris is coming to Garfield High School Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, January 11, from 6:30-8 p.m. She’ll talk about her experiences with blended classrooms at a suburban New York high school.

“What we saw was amazing. You know, we saw for the first time that high school have classrooms that were integrated. School was integrated, but classes were not.  And I know that’s the case, too, at Garfield High,” said Burris.

Burris, who now leads a national education advocacy group, says her school saved money by evening out class sizes and then putting that savings into extra periods to tutor kids who need more help.

Opponents question whether the one-size fits all approach works for every student. Meanwhile, with the state still not fully funding education, there are questions of how to ensure support for students who may be at opposite ends of the learning spectrum.  

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