Francis Howell School District removes all middle school advanced courses to resolve “equity issues”

ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – Francis Howell School District is facing backlash once again as Superintendent Dr. Nathan Hoven announced the removal of all advanced middle school courses to resolve “equity issues”.

FHSD is removing all “Challenge” classes for middle school students to “reduce achievement gaps” and “reduce opportunity gaps for underrepresented groups”, according to documents obtained by Francis Howell Families (FHF), an education political action committee. 

“After many discussions, the decision was made to eliminate challenge courses at the middle school level,” David Brothers, Director of Curriculum and Assessment for FHSD, said in an email to FHSD teachers. “Starting in the fall of 2021, middle schools in Francis Howell will no longer offer Challenge Math 6, Pre-AP ELA 6 and Pre-AP US History 8. Pre-AP ELA 7 will be eliminated during the 2022 – 2023 school year. Pre-AP ELA 8 will be eliminated during the 2023 – 2024 school year.”

The school district’s plan is to remove the Challenge classes, and then integrate the advanced curriculum incrementally into the average classes that the majority of students take, Director of Media Relations for FHF Todd Wakeland said. 

FHSD began considering the drastic course removal when “tracking” of past students in advanced classes revealed that they were, on average, more successful later in life. Due to advanced classes having fewer minority students than the District desires, their solution is to have every child take the same classes, regardless if the curriculum is too advanced or too underwhelming for students.

Hoven and the School District’s extreme measures to resolve “equity issues” also include a push for the remaining Challenge courses to “mirror the demographics of the school,” in regards to race and ethnicity.

Wakeland brought up a concern shared by many parents that this course integration will negatively impact both underachieving and overachieving students.

“I am horrible at math. If I had a Challenge math course in middle school, I would have failed that class,” Wakeland said. “But a high achieving student will be bored out of his mind in a regular class that only occasionally challenges him.”

Nevertheless, Hoven maintains that making all students learn the advanced curriculum, regardless of their ability, is the path to go.

“Many school districts have shown that middle school challenge courses create equity issues, and our Academic Team was planning to remove them going forward,” Hoven wrote in a letter to the Francis Howell school board.

FHSD purchased “research” from Education Technologies, Services and Research (EAB) that apparently showed the benefits of removing ability-based courses for students. However, many parents expressed concern with the research having a pre-existing bias as EAB’s motto is “We are advancing DE&I in education and beyond,” as posted on their website.

DE&I is an acronym for diversity, equity and inclusion: the main driving force behind eliminating the advanced courses.

Supporting the parents’ claim that EAB’s research is biased is a 2016 study showing that students benefited from cross-grade subject grouping and special grouping for the gifted, but did not benefit from between-class grouping.

“If we don’t have enough minorities in the advanced classes, the conversation should be how do we get more minorities into these classes,” Wakeland said. “Instead, what they’ve decided is they are going to drop the classes completely because not enough minorities are in them.”

“Their definition of equitable is equal outcome, instead of equal opportunity,” he noted.

According to the timeline provided by the school district to FHF via Sunshine request, there are also future plans to remove all Pre-AP ELA courses for high school students.

This new curriculum idea seemingly correlates with the hire of a “consultant” last year that raised some eyebrows among parents and residents of the district. 

FHSD hired Dr. LaGarrett King in September 2020 to provide training, curriculum auditing and support to the school district’s leadership team as they developed two race-based courses. King is an unequivocal supporter of the wildly-controversial Critical Race Theory and preaches ideas such as “White fragility”, The 1619 Project and that the U.S. political system is “racist”. 

As the hiring of King brought widespread criticism towards school district officials, it’s fair to expect FHSD will receive similar criticism as “diversity, equity and inclusion” seems to still be at top of mind for the District.

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