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School Committee steps in to pause controversial ninth-grade course changes

The new high school building at 22 Tappan Street, used mainly for ninth grade. Photo by Sam Mintz
February 9, 2024

A contentious change to the ninth-grade English course at Brookline High School is temporarily on pause after the School Committee stepped in at its meeting on Thursday.

On Tuesday, administrators announced plans to transition to a fully unleveled ninth-grade English course next year, no longer separating students into honors and standard classes, as part of a broader effort to reimagine the first year at the high school.

Two days later, in the face of mounting pressure from parents, School Committee members asserted that the course change requires their approval.

The School Committee is now expected to vote Feb. 29 on whether to expand the unleveled English course, which is currently being piloted in five sections, to all ninth graders. If they do not approve the change, ninth graders will continue to choose from standard, honors, and unleveled options, as they did this year.

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“I would like us to get data first before we were to take [the unleveled English course] to the full deployment stage,” School Committee member Mariah Nobrega said.

The potential transition to an unleveled English course is part of a broader redesign of ninth grade courses, motivated in part by a desire to address the overrepresentation of Black, Hispanic, and special needs students in standard-level courses.

The ninth-grade social studies course has been unleveled since 2019. Administrators are also considering changes to the math and physics courses, though no decision has been made about whether to move to a fully unleveled model in those subjects.

High school Head of School Anthony Meyer said administrators will present data on Feb. 29 ahead of the Committee’s vote. Racial demographic data provided to Brookline.News last week shows Black and Hispanic students are about as over-represented in this year’s standard tenth grade social studies courses as in this year’s standard ninth-grade math, physics, and English courses.

Meyer said administrators will also provide a more detailed explanation of the potential course changes on Feb. 29.

“I think there is some misinformation and misuse of words like ‘de-leveling’ that I think spur greater fear than is appropriate from my perspective,” Meyer said. “It’s work I feel really, really strongly about.”

Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, a chorus of parents voiced displeasure about the prospect of a fully unleveled ninth-grade English course.

“While we fully support the need for critical equity and access for all students, many of us are wondering where the data is that shows that de-leveling is achieving its intended outcomes,” said Devorah Bitran, the mother of an eighth grader. “Do we even know what possible negative impacts might be?”

School Committee member Steven Ehrenberg said he received about 50 emails this week from community members about potential implementation of the unleveled English course.