The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, February 28, 2018 1:00 am


Hamstrung: Parents, partners will be essential in state-mandated FWCS course changes

The disconnect between education policy-making and Indiana classrooms is not unusual. But Monday night, the likely effects of the Graduation Pathways plan brought policy and practice close to home for Fort Wayne Community Schools students and parents concerned about changes to the district's honors curriculum. State-level changes leave FWCS with some poor choices:

• Eliminate the current honors curriculum and risk an outflux of top-performing students and their families to neighboring public districts and voucher schools.

• Preserve the status quo and wait for provisions of the state's proposed accountability system to force unwelcome changes.

But those aren't the only options, which is why district leaders are looking to restructure curriculum to ensure all students are both challenged and prepared to meet the tough new requirements set by the appointed members of the Indiana State Board of Education. Its Graduation Pathways plan isn't designed for students to learn to the best of their abilities – it requires all Indiana students graduate with job-training skills or preparation for the military or college.

As Superintendent Wendy Robinson explained Monday, the Pathways requirements demand more students access Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual credit courses. FWCS' current offerings allow for many students to use honors courses as a bridge to those classes, but the administration admits there are inconsistencies in course offerings across the district. 

“Our current schedules aren't flexible enough because of staffing – and because of what we call things – to be able to take a wide array of courses because sometimes they are offered at the same time,” Robinson said, noting that even honors-level students are missing out on opportunities because of the current system.

The state changes necessitate realigning math curriculum to accommodate students taking Algebra 2 as freshmen and advanced math courses in both their junior and senior years. All of the changes combined are responsible for the necessary curriculum revisions. Programs have to be in place and teachers trained and reassigned so that students who now are in seventh grade can meet the state requirements by the time they graduate.

FWCS isn't alone in facing changes, but the size of the district – with 30,000 students in 50 schools – requires much more planning and coordination than will be needed in other districts. The good news is that the district was awarded a $50 million federal grant to revise its curriculum. The district will work with the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin and CenterPoint Education Solutions to train teachers and create course pathways designed to help more students reach the higher-level, rigorous courses now available in the honors curriculum.

Fort Wayne parents can help by participating in the discussions ahead. There's also a role for the community at large in supporting all schools as they prepare to meet the state's new requirements for project-based learning, service-based learning or internship experience. Taxpayers and parents also should let Gov. Eric Holcomb and the legislature know how they feel about the top-down decision-making behind new graduationrequirements.

As the planning work with Fort Wayne parents, teachers and administrators begins, the burden is on district officials to listen and engage everyone involved and to ensure the community beyond Fort Wayne schools knows the district is strengthening its curriculum, not watering it down. Comments at Monday's board meeting should have been encouraging, as parents and students alike praised the quality of the honors program and how it promotes academic success. Assurances that rigorous classes and proper learning environments are available to all students are essential to maintaining trust in the state's largest public school system.

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