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.