In spring 2016 Champlain’s teachers carried out a formal process for creating equitable class configurations for the 2016-17 school year. Fortunately a district coach met with me soon after I became principal to teach me the procedure. Months following, I consulted with other elementary principals and learned that each school followed nearly identical steps. Then in January, I presented these steps to Champlain’s faculty members, who gave me helpful feedback before finalization. At the March PTO meeting, I shared this information as well.
Typically high schools spend months creating a master schedule of class sections based on students’ requests, entered into a computer database and run through an algorithm that produces an efficient schedule. Hundreds of students multiplied by six to ten classes is the driving factor, though in schools committed to equity, students’ academic performance and demographic background factor prominently as well. School counselors or administrators will examine class enrollments for characteristics such as gender, race, eligibility for free meals, and eligibility for special education. Relying solely on software usually creates inequitable patterns. For example, students enrolled in Jazz Band may find themselves attending classes together much of the day. Or students enrolled in English Language class may be scheduled together for Algebra and World History. Students in Advanced Placement Biology might all be placed in the same PE or art class. Examining and rearranging individual students’ schedules by hand can break these patterns. In elementary schools, building heterogeneous (multi-level) classes starts with the students themselves, since they are together all day. Attending classes with kids outside their “homeroom” is the exception.
Bringing students together from many backgrounds develops the skills necessary to succeed in a diverse, democratic society. This is the promise and practice of public education, and a source of great pride in Burlington. I hear BSD parents praise our multicultural school community all the time.
In April, our teachers will begin the process of creating equitable classes for the 2017-18 school year. Each teacher will create a profile for each of her/his current students based on this information:
- Free/reduced meals eligibility
- English Learner
- Special Education, 504, or Educational Support Plan
- Reading Proficiency Average
- Math Proficiency Average
- Special Services Score
- Social, Behavioral, Personal Development
- Behavior referrals
- Teacher Summary
Most of the criteria include a rating scale 1-4. The score is based on individual students’ learning and behavioral needs. The goal is for every class to arrive at the same total number. Grade-level teams build the classes by dividing each criterion equally. If the number of students in an area, say, English Language Learners, cannot be evenly divided, then teachers look to the other criteria to even out the total score. For example, this may mean adding one or two more students with lower reading scores. Most grade levels have three sections, each labeled as A, B, or C instead of teachers’ names. In 2017-18, due to the number of students enrolled, Champlain will have three sections of multi-age 4/5 classes and one section of fourth grade only. In summer parents will receive a letter from their child’s new teacher, welcoming him/her to the class.
An equitable strategy for developing new classes is best practice for an elementary school. Imbalanced classes result in reduced learning and increased misbehavior, which negatively affect individual students, personnel, and the whole class. Only by adhering to this procedure can we ensure equitable classes that provide the most learning opportunities to all students. For this reason, Champlain’s procedure will not include requests from parents/guardians for specific teachers or students in the class. The procedure will not consider older siblings’ placements, since this factor can also lead to imbalanced classes. As a result of Burlington’s teacher supervision and evaluation process, parents can be assured that their children will receive an excellent education no matter which teacher is assigned to the class. Champlain does not have theme-based classes; all follow a common philosophy and curriculum of student-centered and project-based learning based on shared high standards. To see Burlington’s curriculum in each subject area, visit: https://sites.google.com/a/bsdvt.org/bsd-curriculum.