A friend drew my attention to this story last week, and I’ve been following it ever since (including a piece tonight on ABC 7 news). As a Berkeley High graduate who received an excellent science education in high school, I had a visceral and emotional reaction to the idea that Berkeley High might gut its science program in the name of equity. But I’ve been hesitating to blog about it, partly because Caroline Grannan has already covered it all in her blog, and partly because the details still seem kind of sketchy (more on my questions below).
On the face of it, it sure seems like a “what were they thinking?” roll-your-eyes-and-say-only-in-Berkeley kind of story. Essentially, Berkeley High’s governance council (which may or may not have the required balance of parents, teachers and administrators, and which may or may not comply with other aspects of the state’s Education Code) recently recommended doing away with before- and after-school AP science labs under the rationale that they chiefly benefit white students; and that the resources spent on the labs could be better spent supporting struggling students of color (Berkeley High has a significant achievement gap). The school board will debate the plan at a meeting next week (scheduled for January 13). On the face of it, how can it possibly be good policy to end a high quality program because it fails to attract students of color? Wouldn’t it be better to figure out why students of color are not participating?
I do have some questions: first of all, the original story did not make clear that the labs are scheduled before- and after-school. In tonight’s ABC News piece, Berkeley Superintendent William Huyett is quoted as saying that it doesn’t seem all that equitable to expect students to be responsible for class work that is done outside of the regular school day, and he’s got a point. On the other hand, three years of lab science are required for students who intend to enter a four-year college, and aren’t we trying to encourage more students to build their skills in science and math? However, it appears from tonight’s piece that under the proposal, the labs would be rescheduled to occur during the school day, which would eliminate some teaching positions but might not affect the school’s science offerings overall. (Finally, I don’t know what it means, but it’s interesting to see that the science teachers advocating to keep the labs are being led by Amy Hansen, who was briefly and tumultuously the principal of Lowell High School and who is now teaching science at Berkeley High.)
I’m truly hoping that there is more to this story that meets the eye, and that the governance council’s recommendation has been misrepresented – are there any enterprising UC Berkeley Journalism students (or reporters for the Berkeley High Jacket) out there who are willing to delve into this story more deeply? I do hope we learn more before Fox News jumps into the fray, but I’m not optimistic: the current “crazy Berkeley does it again” storyline is just too juicy.