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Advanced classes should be open to all, reporter says

Jared Whitley Of the Record staff
Jay Mathews, Newsweek and Washington Post reporter Grayson West/Park Record
4front

Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews is constantly contacted about trends in education, but never by anyone with the "good sense" of the Park City Education Foundation. The foundation seeks to evaluate the Park City School District according to a self-designed "Report Card" and make it one of the top 10 in the nation. "Park City is certainly one of the best school districts in the country," Mathews told The Park Record. He noted, "All districts have their flaws, even the best ones."

Mathews shared his insights about the foundation’s efforts Tuesday afternoon at The Canyons to Park City and other Utah educators.

Mathews developed Newsweek’s formula for gauging the 200 best high schools in the country: the number of Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) tests taken by all students at a school, divided by the number of graduating seniors. This year, Park City High School was named No. 150. Taking Matthew’s formula a step farther, the education foundation created a 10-point Report Card to evaluate the district’s programs. They are: 1) third-grade reading achievement 2) middle school algebra success 3) graduation rate 4) success on Mathews’ Challenge Index 5) success on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills 6) number of teachers who have advanced degrees and/or National Board Certification 7) spending on instructional services 8) seniors completing three years of a foreign language 9) college placement 10) involvement in student clubs "There’s nothing here that any school district wouldn’t have the opportunity to work on improving, there’s nothing that would just be too hard for any school district to do," Mathews said. Mathews said the best points are the commitment to reading achievement by third-grade, middle school algebra, and his own challenge index.

The Report Card also includes graduation rates and college placement success, which are "generally reflections of affluence," Mathews said. Emphasis on kids learning a foreign language is "avant garde," he continued. But the key to student success is opening the doors to advanced classes to all students. "When we’re judging school districts one of the fist measures should be how accessible are their college-level courses," Mathews said. High schools shouldn’t take the attitude, "I’m sorry, these courses are so special they’re only for our A students. Regular B students and C students, forget about it," Mathews said. Keeping kids out of an advanced class is "malpractice," he continued. After these classes are opened up, educators should seek out students based on test scores or teacher recommendations and "frag them into those courses," Mathews said, the way Jaime Escalante did for calculus classes, depicted in the film "Stand and Deliver." "Most American high schools set up these courses and treat them like the best family china that you only bring out for special guests," Mathews said. He noted, "If Park City has removed all the barriers to AP or IB, then they’ve made a big step forward that is very rare in affluent districts." This year, Park City extended the IB model to all grade school classes, not just an isolated "school within a school," like Treasure Mountain had until last year. At the high school, students can take AP classes regardless of test placements. "You can do that, as long as you’re willing to take on the challenges," Smith said in a previous interview. IB vs. AP? Some have wondered whether or not the IB program will continue on into Park City High School. Proponents say students should have a choice, opponents say IB classes would compete for AP students.

Mathews calls the debate between AP or IB "almost trivial," as each can "transform a mediocre school." But Park City High School isn’t large enough to run the two programs effectively. "It would be difficult unless it’s a really big school," Mathews said. "It would be hard to make it work for a smaller school because you’d be thinning out the choices." Mathews said it’s possible he’ll write about Park City School District’s evaluation efforts at some point, something that no one else really does. "I’m sure down the road there’s a story I should write about school districts and how they do," Mathews said.


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