[DEBATE] Should advanced classes be eliminated?

Along with a growing number of U.S. schools, the Mounds View district has began cutting advanced classes at the elementary, middle and high schools. In this piece, we debate the pros and cons of this decision.
[DEBATE] Should advanced classes be eliminated?
Eliminating advanced classes promotes equity

In recent years, an increasing number of schools have been advocating for the removal of honors and advanced classes from schools. The Mounds View district joined the bandwagon last school year with the removal of honors English at the high school level and non-math advanced classes entirely at the middle schools. Despite parent and student backlash to these changes, the removal of advanced classes was long overdue.

For one, students from certain backgrounds are far more likely to take advanced classes than others. According to the United Negro College Fund, Black and Latino students have a significantly lower enrollment in AP courses compared to their white counterparts. Black and Latino students constitute 38% of the population in schools offering AP courses, yet only represent 29% of those enrolled in at least one AP course. Additionally, higher-income students are far more likely to enroll in advanced courses than low-income students, typically due to a gap in resources available to these students. Eliminating advanced courses may be the most realistic and inexpensive way to address these disparities.

Black and Latino students constitute 38% of the population in schools offering AP courses, yet only represent 29% of those enrolled in at least one AP course.

Advanced classes promote inequity from the moment a student enters elementary school. In elementary to middle school, the majority of the students who enroll in advanced classes have parents who advocate for them to be placed in higher-level courses. The issue with this lies in the fact that some parents are more capable of advocating for their children than others. 

Some parents work long hours and don’t have the time to invest in their child’s education, while others don’t speak English which prevents them from communicating with teachers and deans entirely. Once a student has been placed in a certain course level, it is difficult to ascend to a higher level. Students at lower levels are more likely to feel less motivated or successful compared to their higher-achieving peers. Many of these students have the ability to succeed in advanced courses, but most feel stuck in the path they “chose” as early as first grade.

Getting rid of honor classes, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t mean that students won’t be able to access advanced or challenging content in their single-level courses. Rather, eliminating advanced classes ensures that all students have access to the same high-quality education. In the Mounds View district alone, after removing advanced classes in the elementary and middle schools, the grade-level courses implemented new activities that successfully challenged students who were previously in advanced classes. Moreover, most schools, including Mounds View, that have removed advanced classes are not actually pushing everyone down to grade-level courses, but rather bringing everyone up to a higher-level curriculum.

By removing advanced classes at lower grade levels, schools signal to students that they all have the capability to succeed. This includes encouraging all students to take college credit-earning classes later in high school. In the Oak Park School District in Chicago, tenth-grade enrollment in honors or Advanced Placement rose by 8 percentage points the year after a decision to remove ninth-grade advanced classes. Providing all students with a high-quality, rigorous curriculum gives them the confidence to enroll in difficult classes they may have previously avoided.

Frankly, the growing disparity between students enrolled in advanced classes is unacceptable, and it is time for school districts across the U.S. to follow the example of Mounds View and take action against a burgeoning equity epidemic. Rigorous classes and high-quality education should not be restricted to certain students, and every student deserves a chance to succeed in challenging courses.

Keep advanced classes to uplift underprivileged students

Before my family moved to the Mounds View area, I attended a parochial grade school from kindergarten to eighth grade. Please do not confuse “parochial” with “private” — classrooms at my school were each packed with two grades, teachers taught subjects they held no degree in and there surely weren’t any advanced classes. 

I had always received fairly high standardized test scores, along with high grades in school, and I remember feeling bored in most of my core classes — what a cliché “gifted kid” dilemma. The highest math my school offered was pre-algebra, so with the help of my middle school math teacher, I enrolled in math classes at a local high school in sixth grade. But there were no such equivalents for other subjects.

I feel no resentment towards my old school. With low tuition costs and teacher salaries to match, there simply weren’t enough resources available to offer leveled classes. But for schools like Mounds View that have the capability to offer advanced courses, there are few excuses not to.

Before you mistake me for a disgruntled tiger mom who loses sleep over the lack of honors English on their child’s college application, allow me to explain! GPA boosts and college admissions benefits are some of the most selfish reasons to keep advanced classes, contributing to the toxic stigma surrounding leveled courses. Eliminating advanced courses has far more serious consequences than a deferral from Harvard.

For one, requiring teachers to manage a classroom of students with a wide range of abilities is simply unrealistic. By having two or three levels for every course, teachers can meet students where they’re at — at least in theory. Of course, there can be issues with this, as students sometimes select classes that are either too difficult or, more often, too easy for them. Low-income and Black and Hispanic students are often the most likely to end up in classes below their potential. To diversify advanced classes, educators and parents should proactively reach out to high-achieving students who are not self-selecting these courses and encourage them to enroll.

Decisions to cut advanced courses come from a place of genuine concern about inequity. But these decisions ignore the fact that it’s exhausting to develop a curriculum for and manage a classroom where some kids are reading Tolstoy and others struggle to form coherent sentences, not to mention the impossibility of providing all of those students with individual attention. This could mean that already underserved students become even more neglected, and struggling students lose access to the individualized support they could previously rely on.

It’s accurate to claim that the institution of advanced classes leads to inherent segregation and inequity. But the inverse is also true. As Mounds View middle and elementary schools cut advanced course offerings, affluent families will begin to seek outside opportunities for their children, such as tutoring, expensive programs or even new schools. High-achieving students from low-income families have little ability to seek such opportunities and support. 

In my case, I was able to attend higher-level classes at a local high school because my parents were able to drive me there every other morning — thanks Mom and Dad. But not everyone’s parents can drive them to school at 7:00 a.m., three times a week. By removing advanced classes from schools, educators remove some of the only opportunities available to high-achieving underserved students.

I was able to attend higher-level classes at a local high school because my parents were able to drive me there every other morning — thanks Mom and Dad. But not everyone’s parents can drive them to school at 7:00 a.m., three times a week.

— Maya Gjelhaug

Cutting advanced classes is essentially a quick fix to the deep wounds of academic inequity. And while it does address equity concerns, removing these classes approaches the issue from the wrong end. In reality, we should work towards expanding access to higher-level classes to ensure that all students can excel. But that’s expensive; eliminating classes is not.

It will take work and intentionality to ensure that all students have equal access to a high-quality education at any level. The question that remains is whether or not school districts are willing and able to put in the effort to ensure equity from the bottom up. So, Mounds View — the ball’s in your court.

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About the Contributors
Maya Gjelhaug, Print Editor-in-Chief
My name is Maya, and I'm excited to be one of your print Editors-in-Chief this year! When I'm not editing articles, you can find me mountain biking and snowboarding, thrifting and watching Band of Brothers with my dad. I'm involved in Econ Team and MV's mountain bike team, and I coach 5th-grade soccer. Awards: Best of SNO - Pro-life activists rally against Minnesota abortion legislation Best of SNO - Prince of Peace Church combats homelessness with tiny home settlement Best of SNO - Should legacy admissions still exist? 2nd-Place Gold Medallion Spread - Youth sports culture SNO Site Excellence Design Award SNO Page Excellence Award
Justin Shao, Staff Reporter
Justin is a junior staff reporter, and this year is his first year on The Viewer.
Lale Baylar, Opinions Editor
Hi! My name is Lale, and I'm the Opinions editor and illustrator for the The Viewer 2023-24. I like to draw & paint as well as watch thrillers in my free time. I also enjoy trying new restaurants or baking new recipes at home. I'm in MV's Orchestra, Mustang Mentors and love volunteering at Kinderberry Hills and the Bell Museum. You can reach me by email: [email protected] :)
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