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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Evanston High backs off on segregated math classes

I'm so old I remember when segregation was considered a bad thing. Evanston Township High (ETHS), just north of Chicago, created all-black and all-Hispanic math classes, plus a pre-calculus class restricted to black males, reports Amber Athey in The Spectator.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1964. Photo: Steve Schapiro

Four classes on the school’s website -- Algebra 2 and AP Calculus -- were listed as "restricted to students who identify as black" or "restricted to students who identify as Latinx." A fifth class, pre-calculus was "restricted" to black males. Other classes in the same subjects were listed as open to all students.

Contacted by The Spectator, school officials said the course listings are inaccurate. No class is "restricted" by race, ethnicity or gender. However, certain sections are "intended to support" black or "Latinx" or black, male students.

The school changed the course listings to drop "restricted," reports Athey. For example: “While open to all students, this optional section of the course is intended to support students who identify as Latinx,” one section of Algebra 2 states."

In a statement sent to The Spectator, ETHS officials defended the policy:

This aligns with our goal to increase access to AP-level coursework at ETHS and is supported by the research on how to effectively increase access and success in AP classes for all students. As a result, access to AP classes for all students, including Black and Latinx students, has dramatically increased over the past decade. We are proud of our work.”

Increasing access to advanced courses is easy. Increasing success is hard, unless success is redefined. I wonder if students in black math or Latinx math see themselves as capable learners, just as good as those in white/Asian math. "Separate but equal" used to be a bad thing too.

In 2015, Education Week reported on the school's policy of placing nearly all ninth-graders in honors courses in hopes more would go on to AP courses. Some students complained honors and AP classes were less challenging to accommodate less-prepared students.

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, ETHS hosted an open house with affinity groups "facilitated by the ETHS Latinx Staff Caucus, the Black Staff Caucus and the Asian Middle Eastern Staff Caucus" as well as an "anti-racist," session, reported Evanston RoundTable. A group called Evanstonians for Diversity and Unity protested "district-endorsed racial segregation."

I grew up near Evanston: We used to play them -- losing badly -- in football. It was a huge school: To avoid segregation, Evanston had a single high school. Even today, it has 3,690 students: Forty-five percent are white, 5 percent Asian, 23.5 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic. About a third of students come from low-income families. Others come from affluent families. Some are the children of Northwestern University professors.

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