Staff and students discuss racial disparity in honors classes

by HRV Talon Staff Reporter Elizabeth Bricker

Recently, it has come to the attention of the HRV administrators that the demographics of freshman classes are not proportionate, or a good representation of our student body as a whole. In simpler terms, our school is 50% Hispanic and other, and 50% white.The ratio of white students to Hispanic students in honors classes does not represent this ratio. On average, in freshman honors classes, there are 80% white students and 20% Hispanic students and other. This brings us to ask the question, “why is this happening”? In order to get a better grasp on the cause of this,The Talon decided to gather together a bunch of influential people from HRV that would contribute to a good discussion of the issue at hand. Below is the transcription of the highlights of our conversation with those included in the discussion.

Elizabeth Bricker [referring to the data] “Is this good, or bad or just information?”

Rich Polkinghorn: “I think I originally pulled this data to look at where we stand in terms of our demographics of our school, and from my perspective I see things that are concerning for me, primarily because the representation of our school is that we are about 48-49% white, 48-49% hispanic. So when I think about classes like honors and non-honors classes, what I would hope to see is a fair representation of our student body within those honors classes, which I don’t see, and for me, that is a big concern.”

Ted Cramer: “Adding onto that, this would be more concerning to me if I felt like the eighth grade teachers were discriminating against [the Latino students], because it looks like Hispanic kids are getting discriminated against. But I think the stronger driver here, and I think Mr. Polkinghorn agrees with me, is that this is very much more a socioeconomic thing, your support at home, your ability to excel in some classes, so we both realize that it’s not that we’re discriminating based on race, but that the drive of this is socioeconomic. But still, it ends up that a majority of the kids in honors classes are non-Hispanic, and that’s something that he and I are both looking at ways to correct. “

Lauren Robinson: “With freshmen, by the time they get to the high school, there isn’t much you can do. So I feel like a solution would have to be something that you do in middle school, if you wanted to increase the demographic or Hispanic and non white people in those classes, because by the time you get here, its too late almost.”

Ted Cramer:“And you are saying in terms of bringing up their academic abilities to where we have a more even-”

Lauren Robinson:“Yeah, I know there are programs that are specifically designed so that the people who are in lower socioeconomic levels who don’t have the same amount of support at home or they just need more help those do exist, and those are really good, but I feel  if kids don’t have the drive to go and get better, then [they won’t succeed].”

Beatriz Najera:“ I wonder how many of these white people, or non-Hispanics, I know they are in honors classes, but I wonder about their drive to succeed. When I was a freshmen in honors English and stuff, there were a lot of people that were in that class, but they weren’t putting in effort or showing interest”

Dave Case:“Maybe their mom or their dad showed interest for them being in the honors class, but they didn’t show the same concern.”

Lauren Robinson:“ I think in that case, those types of people, I still see them in my honors classes, they are coasting off of past success. They got a good grade in this one class, and they are riding that as far as they can”

Hailey Harkama: “One thing that the English department is working on is having students this year, in the next couple weeks, verifying forecast predictions. We signed your forecast sheets a month and a half ago and teachers are going to check in again with students based on their progress, and students who would like to take an honors class, the students  can write a letter of application as well. So that will be a new step that they are hoping will also impact the middle school, but I think because there are so many people in the game, making sure everything happens in a timely manner may or may not impact at least freshman’s next years honors class”

Ted Cramer:“I think your comment earlier about not being able to fix this once the kids get to high school, that it needs to be fixed at an earlier time, I think that the underlying thing that you are trying to fix here is poverty. Its not something, there is no level of social programs in Hood River County that are going to be out there and available for the number of kids that we have in poverty and drive them to the point where we could have an even representation of Hispanic and white kids that show up and are ready to be honors, so trying to fix that problem within this format of teaching and educating and supporting kids, there is no level of anything that we can do that can wipe away that disparity”

Lauren Robinson: “To make the classes truly equal, they would have to start off equal, which is unlikely to happen”

Rich Polkinghorn:“ The initial reaction, I think is just to not have honors classes and that would fix that problem, but I think that disservices the kids that are honors kids, that are tag kids, who are smart and really do push hard” “this is more of a representation of our socioeconomic status rather than our racial demographic”

Ibette Sanchez:[speaking about students choosing to be in honors classes] “It depends on the person themselves, how they feel about their own skills, and I think if they have extra support then that will just motivate them more and bring them up to those higher level classes, it just really depends on how much support they get from their teachers, their parents, that really does make a difference on the classes they chose and how well they do in the class”

Rich Polkinghorn:“it’s more your own internal drive, and then how much support they get”

Ibette Sanchez:“A freshman is so scared, they are scared to do everything, and it’s hard because you don’t want to  overwhelm them, because they are already overwhelmed, its just a lot to take in. I feel like a little more insight on what to expect, and what the differences are [between honors classes and general level]”

Ted Cramer:“what I wonder is, I don’t have any lens into families where you don’t have that support [academically from parents, or siblings] and how much harder it would be, and I always imagine, that it would make it substantially harder, if you don’t have that help”

Lauren Robinson:“I’ve never been given any other option than honors classes, it was kind of expected that I would take every honors class possible”
Beatriz Najera: “it’s also very hard to communicate when you don’t speak English”

Dave Case:“ The way to change this pie chart to a more equitable level, might not be to have more non-white students in HPS, it would probably be to have fewer white students in HPS, and have those honors classes shrink to a size where we have both the academically hard charging and the academically talented, and maybe we don’t have as many people whose parents switch them into the class that they think they should be in because of their socioeconomic status.”

Rich Polkinghorn:“and that’s what I wonder about honors classes, is it a social status, or an academic status.”

Everyone who came to the meeting had great ideas and thoughts about this issue. It seems, the main problems that we are facing that spiral into this larger problem, are poverty/socioeconomic levels, unmotivated students in honors classes, language barriers, and false expectations of what honors classes will be like. Students need to be placed in honors classes based on their ability. If a white student is expected to take an honors class but is not motivated themselves to take one, then they should not be in that class. Motivated, exceptional students need to be in our honors classes. Re-placement into honors classes is happening this year within the English department as honors students request admittance back into honors and general level students can apply for honors admittance as well.

Categories: Academics, People

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