If liberal politics and good intentions helped all students learn, then
Berkeley High School should be an exemplar to all California. Yet,
according to its governance council, Berkeley High was identified last
year as the high school with "the largest racial equity/achievement gap
in the state."
The worst part, as far as low-performing students are concerned, is that
you can't expect the school district to turn its record underachievement
around not when its governance council, which makes recommendations
to the school board on operations, approves a plan with a preamble that
quotes Karl Marx: "From each according to his (or her) ability, to each
according to his (or her) need."
Then there's the science lab issue. Last month, the East Bay Express
reported that the council was working to eliminate science labs at
Berkeley High. The story burned through the Internet as it fed into the
town's stereotype as a left-wing bubble that puts political correctness
before all else.
The story also bolstered the common suspicion that some educators want
to close the achievement gap by dumbing down public schools. As Peggy
Scott, a governance council parent who voted against the plan, told
KQED's "Forum's" Michael Krasny on Wednesday, "Closing the achievement
gap really means bringing the bottom up, and the problem is that it does
seem and it does feel like what might be happening is trying to bring
the top down."
It turns out, as The Chronicle's Jill Tucker later reported, Berkeley
High's science labs are conducted before or after school. As district
spokesman Mark Coplan explained, years ago, the district decided to use
parcel tax money to fund labs which meant they had to be
extracurricular. When you have science labs before or after the regular
school day, some kids can't make them.
Berkeley Unified Superintendent William Huyett contends that the
district did not plan to get rid of science labs, but to "integrate the
labs into the regular school day" which could benefit some students.
The school board will look at the issue next month.
That said, action-plan supporters on the governance council have to own
up to the fact that they are talking about taking something away from
Advanced Placement and college prep students. As science teacher Mardi
Sicular-Mertens told KQED, eliminating the labs means eliminating about
20 percent of instructional time from a program with "a proven track
Another cause for alarm: It is not clear where the money that went to
this academic program will go, other than toward unnamed "equity
Scott told me that the governing council never voted on the Marx-loving
preamble. That's good to know, given this language: "Every students
(sic), particularly" minority students, "have access to rigorous
culturally-relevant curriculum that empowers them to be active
participants in creating a more just society AND have any support they
need to access and excel in curriculum."
Here's an example: "de-track" freshman math in favor of "heterogeneous
classes." Beware: Those terms are educratese for dumping honors and
dumbing down content.
The result will not be a more just society. Instead, a declining number
of Berkeley High students will be able to do the math.