Streamlined curriculum limits student choice

Dayanara Miranda, Staff Writer

Until a few years ago, students had many more classes to choose from than they do now. After freshmen English, the next three required years of English could include media studies, creative writing, journalism, American Studies, British Literature, independent reading and college prep writing. Now all students who aren’t in honors or AP must take English 1, 2, 3, and 4 regardless of what their future plans or interests are.
One part of the reason for the change was that Illinois was under education standards from the Illinois state board of education until the 2013-2014 school year when common core was introduced.
“Illinois state standards dictated graduation requirements, therefore our district chose to designate those classes as electives. Also, the English 1-4 curriculum had to be realigned across the district to meet those standards,” Elaina Kalantzis, counselor, said. “In addition, the administrators at the district office wanted students to be better prepared for college and streamlined those courses.”
However, other schools such as Neuqua Valley in district 204 offer a choice of classes such as poetry, world literature, and African American world literature to fulfill required English credits, while still complying with common core. Additionally, Naperville Central in district 203 offers sophomores the option of taking standard English or journalism to fulfill the English requirement. District 202 only offers creative writing and journalism as electives.
“The district wanted students to have a common experience,” Chris Chlebek, assistant principal, said. With one student taking American studies, one taking journalism, and one taking regular English, they all leave high school with different knowledge and skills.
According to Diane Ravitch, professor at New York University, a curriculum with extensive offerings in various subjects provides a much richer learning experience than a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Policy makers want all students to be ‘college and career ready,’ but getting ready for college is not the central purpose of education,” Ravitch said in a recent article.
Although not all students want to go to college, they are still required to take the same classes as a college bound student. Some schools have turned to electives to allow students choice, but time is a factor with not being able to choose many electives. Both Naperville districts 203 and 204 have 8 class periods in each day, according to their websites, while Plainfield district 202 has seven.
“It does not help that only having a seven-period day does not give students freedom with their electives and non- traditional choices,” Robin Callan, Plainfield North English teacher, said. Callan was instrumental in creating the former American Studies course, which paired US History and American Literature in a block structure to reinforce both subjects as they followed the same time line.
When changing the standards, the creators of common core deemphasized some criteria that was taught in the regular standards.
“There [used to be] more of an emphasize on writing and classical literature,” Rose Fleming, English teacher, said.
With common core, more flexibility is allowed for teachers to choose what books students read for the school year, but the new curriculum focuses more on communication skills and critical analysis rather than on writing.
“The 21st century system of education is focused on active learners,” Chlebek said.
One goal of the curriculum is making sure all students receive the necessary skills to help them succeed in the future. Now, common core gives one system for all states who choose to be a part of the curriculum.
“A lot of people didn’t like the lack of consistency between state standards. Concerns grew as U.S. students scored poorly or just average on international tests,” Andrew M.I. Lee, J.D., editor for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said in an article from Understood.
As of now, no new English classes will be added for the 2019-2020 school year.
In the math department, common core focused more on application and problem solving as well as in the new curriculum that started in the 2017-2018 school year: Springboard. But again, common core changed certain criteria.
“Trigonometry has been short changed, and I wish there was more probability,” Connie Billerman, math teacher, said.
Common core has also eliminated certain math classes that did not qualify with its standards.
“We used to have a Geometry concepts and applications class that was for students who struggled in Algebra 1. Also, a Practical Math class for students that were not successful in Geometry and needed another year of math, not Algebra 2. Again, with Illinois State standards, those did not align with graduation requirements. Instead of becoming electives, they simply went away, and the core Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2 became the norm. That was also the recommended track since college bound students needed those 3 classes for admissions,” Elaina Kalantzis, counselor, said.
According to the 2019-2012 district 202 curriculum, these JJC math courses will added for dual credit: Intermediate Algebra, Mathematics for General Education, Elementary Statistics, Pre-Calculus I: Algebra, and Pre- calculus II: Trigonometry.
As classes keep advancing for college bound students, classes for non-college bound students aren’t. As of now, that’s how it will continue to be because the district wants to continue towards the goal of making sure all students have the same skills for the future whether they pursue college or the work force.