The equitability of an honors track

Staff discussions spurs conversations on racism in academics


Arden Rathkopf

In some classes, honors means that students have a few more homework questions or a longer test.

Hazel Engstrom, Copy Editor

When registering for classes, students have to choose between honors and core. In some classes, honors means that students have a few more homework questions or a longer test, while in others the core and honors tracks are separated entirely. The end result though, is the same. Everyone gets a small “H” on their transcript.

Recently, staff met to discuss the possibility of a standardized honors policy across departments, with a focus on providing rigorous courses for students while continuously promoting equity within the school.

However, with the designation of honors programs dating back to the redlining and structural racism that took place early during the foundation of Seattle Public Schools, concern has been raised over the best way to reform a program which began as a vessel for segregation.

“I think it’s important from a social justice perspective to realize that our schools were developed and structured in order to further the tenants of white supremacy culture,” April McKenna, a language arts teacher, said. “The HCC (Highly Capable Cohort) program here in Seattle Public Schools, of which honors classes are an outcropping of … was specifically designed to keep white parents from pulling their kids out of Seattle Public Schools.”

As a result, public high schools in Seattle along with public high schools across the country have reported high numbers of white students in honors, with students of color remaining disproportionately underrepresented in advanced learning tracks, according to the United States Department of Education.

“If you look at the raw data of who ends up in an AP or an honors class at Ballard, you will see differences in terms of the demographics there,” Janine Logsdon, a math teacher and Math Department Head, said. “The Ballard high school honors/AP program is not alone in this issue [however]. We exist in a society that has systemic racism.”

In an effort to combat this trend, the Math Department at Ballard has adopted a policy of mixed honors and core classes at the freshman and sophomore grade levels as a way to introduce students towards more challenging topics.

“What we try to do is kind of break down that system and help more students see themselves as advanced learners,” Logsdon said. “Hopefully that results in change over time.”

The Language Arts Department on the other hand has a total “honors for all policy” which, beyond mixed classes, allows every freshman and sophomore student the opportunity to earn honors credit regardless of whether they signed up for it.

“When you present an honors-for-all system, I think you’re saying that you believe that all of your students are honors students.” McKenna said.