Back to the Future at Wilde Lake High

March 02, 1994

So much of what seemed fresh and innovative in public education two decades ago has gone by the wayside. The back-to-basics movement, itself now more than a decade old, was a recoiling to the liberal policies of the more radical 1970s. Only a few relics of that era survive, such as a smattering of open classrooms.

But little compares to the dinosaur of experimental schools, the nationally recognized Wilde Lake High in Howard County. At last, it too is about to undergo a transformation, a back-to-the-future revamping that will bring it more in line with traditional methods of education.

The change is long overdue.

In its heyday, Wilde Lake had it all. Open classrooms that were meant to foster greater communication. A grading policy that said no child would ever fail. A curriculum that could be molded to a student's interests. For a while, the experiment worked. Wilde Lake students consistently scored high in national tests.

But as the school's minority and disadvantaged populations grew, scores in the Scholastic Assessment Tests plummeted. Highly motivated students still thrived, but average and below-average students coasted aimlessly. Officials have known for years about the school's decline, but allowed themselves to be bullied by a vocal minority of parents who wanted to retain the old system.

The decision to physically tear down Wilde Lake this year and build a new school in its place has given officials a convenient excuse to make changes. Gone will be the no-fail grading policy, replaced by the traditional A-through-E system. Teachers will be asked to combine efforts so that students are aware of how subjects relate. Ninth graders will be given special attention to ensure a good start.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey insists that the baby will not be thrown out with the bathwater. College-style scheduling that allows students to take up to 12 credits per semester will be retained. Nevertheless, the changes will be substantial.

Henry Middleton, vice president of Wilde Lake's Parent-Teacher-Student Association, spoke volumes when he said that the success of new programs depends on the faculty buying into the idea. That is true with so many educational reforms, many of which expire for lack of commitment. It's time for a change at Wilde Lake; the time is now.

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