I’ll begin by clarifying my intentions for this blog post. My hope is that what I have written will help educators reflect on how Honors courses are set up and which children have the opportunities to take them. I am definitely not attempting to imply that I have this all figured out or that I know the best path forward. I am trying to be transparent and get everyone talking so that we can collectively work towards improvements.
Consider this thought experiment from a colleague of mine, Michael Butler:
What if we eliminated separate Honors and regular math classes? For example, instead of there being an Honors Geometry course and a regular Geometry course, we mixed all students together so there was just one type of Geometry course that every Geometry student took.
There’s a catch though: any of these Geometry students may earn Honors credit for the course, as long as the student does X, Y, and Z. What would X, Y, and Z need to be for this to be fair?
We’ll come back to that question later on.
Here’s a different and perhaps scarier question to answer: what are the differences between Honors and regular math classes in your district? Can you answer that question? If you can’t, you’re not alone. If you can, are you absolutely certain that what you said holds true in all classrooms in your district?
I’ve asked many teachers about what makes an Honors class different from a regular class and here are some of the answers I’ve heard. Honors classes…
- … cover the material at a faster pace so they can include content standards from the beginning of the next course.
- … are given less time to complete a test.
- … use a different book than regular classes.
- … cover some of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) plus standards (defined in the last paragraph of pg 147)
- … require students to do more homework/classwork/projects/quizzes.
- … do additional higher Depth of Knowledge (DOK) problems and problem-based lessons.
- … cover almost the same content as regular classes but just have the “better” students.
Your feelings on these answers may vary from shock to agreement to being appalled. This also makes you think about how a child even becomes an Honors student. We’ve all taught students in a regular course that would have been successful in an Honors course. The reverse is also true as I’ve taught Honors courses and wondered how some students ended up in that class. How can we talk about valuing equity yet allow this to happen?
I’ll end by coming back to the question I asked about in the initial thought experiment. If every student could potentially earn Honors credit by doing enough to justify that distinction, what would they have to do? Imagine having this conversation with colleagues in your district and making a combined list!
Once we have that list, two questions remain for me:
- Why don’t we start doing those things in all of our Honors courses?
- Why don’t we stop having separate Honors and regular courses and give all students opportunities to demonstrate that they deserve the distinction?
Thanks for allowing me to stand on my soapbox and let this off my chest. What do you think I’m right about? Where am I mistaken? Are there other differences between Honors and regular courses I should add to my list? Do you have suggestions for what “X, Y, and Z” should be? Please let me know in the comments.