News Alert
BART UPDATE: Oakland Coliseum Station Re-Opens…

Don't 'Segregate' Students Who Need Reading Help

Education columnist says “segregate” is the right word because students in special classes are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic.


This column is written by High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. This week he takes issue with "Companion English" classes that are meant to bring slow learners up to speed but, he argues, instead reinforce their infirmities. This is his note to fellow faculty.

Thank you, very much for sending us your email asking the ninth and tenth grade English teachers for our feedback. We don’t often get asked our opinions about major issues like this.

I hope you don’t mind my using your question as fodder for my column on Patch. I’m always looking for ideas and this seems like a perfect opportunity.

Your email asked for, specifically, “successes, struggles, grade analysis, planning for 2013-2014.” Let me see if I can provide some of each.

Companion English, as you know, is a remedial class given to approximately one hundred ninth and tenth graders. Each is enrolled in two English classes (Companion plus “College Prep” English). Placement in the Companion room is based on low scores on the CST tests in the spring and the recommendations of last year’s teachers. (See attached image for a course description).

The idea is to boost their grades in English and to increase their scores on 2013 California Standards Tests (CST’s). These latter tests are, of course, one of the main statistical measure by which the school is judged.

To me Companion classes embody everything that is wrong with our local high school public education.

First because it epitomizes the school’s top-down management style. The whole program was imposed from above with too little input from the people who are supposed to make it work. (But I’ll concede that, if you asked about it when we began three years ago, you would have found very few dissenters.)

Second because it segregates the most disaffected students from their motivated peers guaranteeing that they will never have any reason to think that school makes any sense or has any purpose in their lives. (“Segregates” is just the right word here since Companion classes are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic.)

Third it shackles these same kids to the dullest curriculum in the school. A child who never reads and hates the idea of coming to school is given grammar drills and reading workbooks. (The pacing guides we receive each year ensures that no teacher will try anything too radical.)

Fourth it asks these same unhappy children to endure the same lessons twice in one day. You hated that story in English? Well here it is again in Companion.

And fifth it puts the neediest children in the noisiest classrooms where a few bullies and loudmouths can prevent them from learning anything.

There are certainly a few SLHS English teachers who approve of this program—though I don’t think anyone who actually teaches the class would be counted among their number. Anyone who voices opposition to the system is labeled a naysayer who doesn’t want to help our most “at risk” students.

I almost had one Companion success story this semester. I tried to get my best Companion student transferred out of the program so she could take typing or some other elective course. But I failed. We had our own Catch 22 moment. Her C grade in the class proved she needed more remediation. I thought it proved she was bored.

Struggles? Of course I have them—almost every day. And, yes, I realize this is an indictment of my own teaching. My daily experience tells me that my Companion students are learning very little. (My nineteen Companion students have a collective GPA of 1.0 for this semester in English.)

Planning for 2013-14? Here’s my proposal.

Next year identify a hundred of the lowest scoring kids and transfer them to the Honors (upper track) classes.

Let them sit in the quiet rooms with students who care about their education Now there’s a program that will really help them.  

Read other columns from the Entirely Secondary archive. The tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary.

Get San Leandro Patch delivered by email. Like us on FacebookFollow us on Twitter @sanleandropatch. Or start your own blog

Leah Hall January 30, 2013 at 07:34 PM
Ya think ;-) Seriously, though. David spends far too much of his life dividing the world into "us" and "them." You play that card too long and then eventually you find yourself severing your contract with Fox News (Sarah Palin) or downtrending to historical lows in the cable news empire (Fox News, which is at its lowest ratings figures since 9/11). Also what was his name again... Kitt Domney? Matt Womby? Sasha Rolfaclo?
David January 30, 2013 at 08:06 PM
So, we agree that you don't like testing. Likewise, I know how sorry you are about my terrible ignorance "of the skills" needed in today's world, despite me actually living as an independent adult in today's world. If you comprehended what I wrote, you'd realize I never defended the "test" as the only, best, or any other superlative way to measure the performance of teachers or students. In fact, I agree it's "limited" to use your word. In the absence, however, of other metrics, and the vigorous opposition by teachers' unions to use *any* metrics (including more "holistic" evaluations, as seen in the Chicago strike), we're left with the public (us) forcing tests on teachers in order to get any measurement and hopefully accountability. Is that clear? And if I know so little, please inform us as to where my statements are incorrect. You have yet to do so.
Elisabeth Huffmaster May 11, 2013 at 11:11 PM
David thinks differently than a number of us who write on Patch. Here David is a piece that supports the neurodiversity in our online chatty group and even supports intelligences that may have difficulty with language-related curriculum in our classrooms: http://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds.html By the way, charter schools are having very mixed results, but at least there is parental passion behind them; passion helps with learning even if it does not always translate to the best administration and testing outcomes: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/31/charter-schools-that-start-bad-stay-bad-study-finds/ I wonder if socio-economics also plays a part like it normally does? Socio-economics was not really covered in this study but these charter programs do statistically benefit "black and Hispanic students and English Language Learners....[and] underserved student groups" A study on charter middle schools with lotteries shows smaller class sizes help; smaller class sizes usually translate to more staff and a more expensive education just in case that fact slips anyone's mind: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20104029/ And again, parent advocacy matters, "the most definitive measure of educational success is that charter schools are popular with parents." http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/brief/guide-major-charter-school-studies
David May 12, 2013 at 02:12 AM
Huff, 1) so what. I thought you "liberal" types liked "diversity." Just not in thought, it appears. 2) Really, you're going to patronize me now? Because I "think differently" (in reality have a different opinion, shaped by actual facts) from you, I'm disabled or crazy? 3) Uh yes, there are bad charter schools. I'm glad you can find them. They can be closed down, and/or parents don't send their kids there. What's our recourse for bad public schools? 4) Your links demonstrate, as I have repeatedly stated and provided evidence for, that charter schools (to some degree) and vouchers (to a greater degree) improve the outcomes the most for kids who "need" the most improvement, i.e. "urban" school districts, poor/minority kids. Of course, by definition, poor kids are the ones receiving vouchers in most jurisdictions, like Milwaukee. Really. Do try to read. I've repeated that latter point nearly every time, and you still don't seem to get it.
Elisabeth Huffmaster May 12, 2013 at 04:46 AM
Yes, I do enjoy reading your points of view. Thank you for adding them.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »