Clear Creek HiLife
Smaller Learning Communities may be in our futureSunday, March 28, 2004 By June Liu
In its first step towards creating the controversial Small Learning Communities, CCHS will be dividing the ninth grade into six “academic teams” next year. Each team will be comprised of about 160 students who share the same math, science, social studies, and English teachers. The primary reason for academic teaming is to better serve the middle 80% of students who do not receive the attention that advanced placement and learning disabled students receive. The school administration also hopes that it will reduce discipline problems and failure, retention and drop-out rates, caused by the difficult transition into high school for ninth graders. “The key to learning is motivation,” said Principal Hayes. The teams will allow groups of students to be scheduled in the same classes, in hopes of facilitate a heightened sense of belonging. Dr. Hayes believes that when students are placed in a learning atmosphere in which they see their friends more often, they will be more motivated. In addition, the core teachers will have a common planning period so that they can coordinate tests and the due dates of projects, as well as discuss teaching methods and student problems. Dr. Hayes says that by increasing the communication between team teachers, students can be better served. Also, all of the teachers in the same department, e.g. math or social studies, will have the same lunch in order to discuss necessary issues. “It’s a scheduling nightmare,” said Dr. Hayes, “but it can be done.” Despite the many advantages of smaller learning communities, academic teaming presents several challenges, one of the most notable involving the Advanced Placement program. There are relatively fewer Pre-AP teachers than regular teachers in each subject area. Currently, there is only one advanced English teacher for each grade level, two Advanced Academic Geography teachers, and one teacher for each of the advanced World History, U.S. History, Pre-calculus, Calculus Economics and Government classes. With this arrangement, every ninth grader wanting to take a Pre-AP course would have to be on the same team, which is an obstacle to the school administration’s hopes of evenly distributing minority, Gifted and Talented, and learning disabled students. To solve this problem, Dr. Hayes said that there will be more advanced teachers for the ninth graders next year, and the students taking advanced courses would be distributed across more teams. This change comes at a time when both the state legislature and the district and school administrations are encouraging students to take AP classes. The school receives $100 for each student who takes and passes an AP test, but does not receive money for each test taken. At the same time, Governor Perry is proposing to give school districts $1000 for each student who graduates with a Distinguished Degree, which requires the students to take at least three advanced classes. On top of that, Governor Perry is proposing that an additional $1000 will be given if the student graduating with a Distinguished Degree is considered an at-risk student. To address the students, parents and teachers who are concerned about the curriculum being weakened to facilitate more—and possibly less qualified—students, Dr. Hayes assured that the level of education will not change. However, in the final draft of the district-wide English curriculum for next year, teachers are only allowed to assign two to three summer reading books, as opposed to an average of about six in previous years. Additionally, Dr. Hayes said that students’ low levels of performance are oftentimes caused by discipline problems, not intelligence problems. And according to his theory about academic teaming, the discipline problems will decrease once the concept is implemented. Academic teaming at CCHS’s Ninth Grade Center is only on eway in which the Small Learning Communities (SLC’s) are being implemented. At the center of the controversy are the career-themed learning communities that may come later. Next year, Clear Lake High School will implement a Computers, Marketing, and/or Business Academy (CMBA) for interested students. While a good portion of the public still does not feel confident about the concept of SLCs, the future of these SLCs looks certain. In the next issue of the HiLife, there will be a detailed look into the different aspects of Small Learning Communities and the controversy that surrounds them.