Petri dish

Berkeley High’s School Governance Council voted this week to approve principal Jim Slemp’s latest proposal for a new schedule at BHS. It now goes to the Berkeley Unified School District (although Slemp claims that the proposal doesn’t need BUSD approval).

The most contentious aspect of the new schedule is the elimination of before- and after-school time for science labs. The extra funding that goes to science will be used instead for unspecified “equity grants”, aimed at reducing the achievement gap in the school.

BHS science teachers have written an open letter to the school community. If you’re concerned about the future of science at the school you should read the whole thing, but here’s the key passage:

This proposal flies in the face of the BSEP mandate and the 2020 Vision. The science labs during 0 and 7th periods provide weekly enrichment and satisfy UC and CSU requirements that college prep science classes offer 20% of instructional time for hands-on lab activities. In addition, the extra lab periods provide additional time to support struggling students. The science program meets the goals articulated by both BSEP and the 2020 Vision providing enrichment, support for all students and UC requirements.

The extra time BSEP funding supports allows BHS to maintain an outstanding AP science program. Many of our students take and succeed in three AP level sciences courses as first year courses. Our students’ performance on the AP exams well exceeds the national average. These courses would have to become 2nd year offerings if the labs were eliminated. Approximately 600 students per year enroll in our AP programs. All of our students take Advanced Biology, most take chemistry, physics, or environmental science or anatomy and the extra time provides the support students need to develop a deep understanding of these topics.

The elimination of these labs would reduce instructional time by more than 21% (30% in AP classes). such devastating cuts would force science teachers to eliminate many of the labs that enrich the experience for students by having them “do science”.

It’s difficult to decipher all the signatures, but it looks like the letter is signed by 18 of the school’s science teachers. It calls for parents to phone, email or write to Slemp and the school board to oppose the rescheduling plan.

Parents are also being urged to send a letter to school superintendent William Huyett and to show their support at next week’s meeting of the school board.

Photo by Adam Coster from Flickr

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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117 Comments

  1. They should really extend their support when it comes into this kind of thing in order for them to attain the things that they admired for their learning and be able to promote some ideas that would totally give their kids an advantage and those students who will study in that school.

  2. AC, how does the per-student high school spending in Berkeley compare with greater California and, why (in your opinion) – and how does the answer relate to your proposal. (Also, we do of course pay for labs. It was only ever certain lab periods vs. others that were on the table for complex reasons.)

  3. If we, as California citizens, would fund the schools enough to pay for science labs, then we could continue to have science labs. Unfortunately, we don’t want to pay nearly as much as we did in the 70’s:

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/images/CA_edu_fund.jpg

    We’re not cancelling science labs because of those danged minorities. We’re cancelling science labs because we’re not willing to pay for them.

  4. “The latest mantra on why science labs must be cut continues to be that there’s some legal issue with having them take place during 0/7th periods.”

    Cite, please?

  5. The latest mantra on why science labs must be cut continues to be that there’s some legal issue with having them take place during 0/7th periods. What’s true is that the mandated school day is defined by the bell schedule and that was approved by the school board last June for 7:30 am through 4:20 pm. End of story. It would be quite simple for BUSD to clear up this matter by providing a letter from counsel containing a legal opinion stating that 0/7 periods violate the state ed code. It is certainly to the district’s advantage to maintain confusion over this issue when it is a simple legal matter to state if there is a violation of state ed code or not, and cite the specific code, and have the attorney of record unequivocally state the opinion. If BUSD does not provide this unequivocal legal opinion to the Berkeley community and soon, then we know it was all a sham.

    It is simply not believable that, just coincidentally, the school district which has never shown any interest in compliance with ed code all of a sudden finds this particular violation just when they’re hunting for a new excuse to grab money from the large school to give even more money to the small schools.

    So until BUSD presents the evidence that 0/7 periods violate the ed code, we parents have to assume it’s another load of baloney.

    As for those Dickensian children being taken care of by devoted high schooler siblings–those high schoolers can’t make it to high school by 8:30 either if they’re getting their younger siblings to elementary school. All these arguments (including how kids couldn’t possibly participate in sports or work, both of which my son does just fine while taking 0 and 7th period labs) for why we need to get rid of 0/7th periods dissolve under the lightest scrutiny.

  6. JNG,

    You say: “I think you this entirely backwards. Cal subsidizes Berkeley by bringing in students, professors and other employees who purchase food, housing and other items of commerce. No offense to our neighbors, but without Cal, face it, we’d just be Albany, Oakland or Emeryville.”

    That’s not *entirely* false but I think it is misleading. Cal avoids property taxes on prime real estate. It consumes a lot in City services. It consumes a lot on false-start projects like the hotel down-town. A lot of the money spent by students and faculty, and for capital equipment and services, goes to firms based out of town so there is much profit extraction without much recirculation. I agree with you to the extent that we would be a far, far less interesting and culturally rich town without Cal but I think Cal’s presence is a pretty heavy bottom line burden on City taxpayers. As far as I can tell, anyway.

    Please understand that I’m not saying Cal should be giving the City much more actual dollars. Rather, I’m saying that Cal has the excess capacity to contribute quite a lot more than they do to BUSD’s efforts for what amounts to pennies on the dollar. Cal is in a position to contribute more labor and facilities at low price to them, but at very high value to the City. Cal can afford to contribute educational participation that we could not, as a city, afford to buy even under the most ideal circumstances. It would be nice to see them make an effort to bend over a bit in trying circumstances like the present one, and help make us feel better about the trade-offs of hosting them.

    You ask: “Do you pay property taxes?”

    As a renter who occupied my current unit scarcely more than a year ago after previous tenants left, I presumably not only (with one step of indirection) pay property taxes, but pay property taxes plus some profit on them for my landlord. (My landlord is excellent and among his many virtues, I don’t think he is claiming any unjust profits on the portion of our rent that helps settle the tax bill sent in his name. He’s a rare bird, in my experience in Berkeley.)

    You remark: “Most of the folks with less means pay rent, which means they are already getting the break you refer to.”

    Are you so sure about that? It doesn’t look to be the case in my neighborhood. Don’t forget that state-mandated vacancy decontrol resets rent levels to market levels during most ordinary changes of occupancy. I’m certain that there are many tenants in Berkeley living in sub-market units under rent stabilization but you are making the much stronger claim that “most” students in AP classes who come from families that rent are enjoying substantially sub-market rent levels. I’m not certain you’re wrong but it looks to me like a pretty dubious claim. The City is a lot less “renter friendly” in *some* respects than it was back in the heyday of rent control.

    You say: “With that said, I don’t find anything wrong with asking for contributions from parents to support schools, and I suspect those with means would contribute more. We certainly donate above and beyond the property tax threshold every year.”

    I gather, though, that you would not want that formalized or made mandatory in the form of sliding-scale usage fees? To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the progressively assessed usage fees should cover the entire cost. In fact, they should be capped at a level that makes them attractive compared to buying college course hours a la carte.

    Finally: about small schools… I’m starting to wonder what the (still standing) “pro” arguments are. Yes, I like the idea of individualized attention and multi-year peer associations but tying that to academic concentrations with a lock-in lottery system and factionalized faculty fighting over budget seems, well, just dumb. I wonder what *you* might think, at least off the cuff as a starting point, of the house/cluster/independent-advocate advisory system I crudely outlined as an alternative. (Although, again, it’s not obvious to me we have a faculty who are up to the challenge.)

  7. Hi Thomas

    You write:

    “How is it that Cal appears to be more heavily subsidized by Berkeley taxpayers than by a typical Californian and yet is just a bit limp in creative participation in our schools?”

    I think you this entirely backwards. Cal subsidizes Berkeley by bringing in students, professors and other employees who purchase food, housing and other items of commerce. No offense to our neighbors, but without Cal, face it, we’d just be Albany, Oakland or Emeryville.

    You then say:

    “..Why not sliding-scale use fees for the outside-hours supplements to the core curriculum, tied to household incomes and assets?”

    Do you pay property taxes? I know I do, and they are directly tied to my income since I bought a house here a few years back and there is a direct correlation between the two. As a property owner I also get the privilege of paying the supplemental school tax as well by the way.

    Most of the folks with less means pay rent, which means they are already getting the break you refer to.

    With that said, I don’t find anything wrong with asking for contributions from parents to support schools, and I suspect those with means would contribute more. We certainly donate above and beyond the property tax threshold every year.

    I also agree we should kill the small schools, probably for different reasons. It strikes me that the old system was dismantled in favor of a system that merely made achievement gaps even worse b/c there was no longer any accountability. The small schools have merely allowed for the further amplification and masking of the problem until is laid bare at the end of the year by standardized testing.

    Take care

  8. Ms. Lashof,

    First, I should mention that I searched the web for your name to figure out whether I should use “Ms.” or “Mr.” – your name is ambiguous that way. Having searched, I’ve come to have a greater appreciation of who you are and what kinds of things you do.

    Second, about your proposals:

    Generally, they are very good.

    Isn’t one of the issues here, though, that “equity grants” for tutoring and high levels of funding for AP courses are competing for the same dollars? In other words, I think its those “extra hours” that make the funding problem that have brought us to the point. I haven’t discovered enough transparency in the budget situation to tell but that seems to be the story behind the infamous action plan. What budget transparency I can find is consistent with albeit it not confirming of that story. So, all else being equal, it may come down to those extra hour advance courses vs. enhanced advisory / tutoring.

    I have a couple of strawman alternatives to toss back at you:

    1) “Hey, Bayer, I’m lookin’ at you (and your ilk).”

    How is that Berkeley is trying to become a big (for its geographic and population size) hub, and occupies some of the sweetest real estate in the world, and yet an org. like Bayer is simultaneously weak on contributing directly to educational opportunities *and* extorting tax breaks? How is it that Cal appears to be more heavily subsidized by Berkeley taxpayers than by a typical Californian and yet is just a bit limp in creative participation in our schools?

    Orgs such as those two can both supplement the BSEP budget *and* help lower the costs of AP (and beyond) education. I think we need better social organizing outside of the narrow confines of the BUSD structure and budget per se.

    2) “The Universally Offensive Sliding Scale Fee Notion”

    I think a lot of people will hate this idea and it is probably therefore not viable but, maybe I’m wrong about that:

    Why not sliding-scale use fees for the outside-hours supplements to the core curriculum, tied to household incomes and assets? The “right” balance would be something like kids from families below the poverty line get in for free or damn cheap, but it costs more a few tiers above. In every case the fees should be lower than buying similar credit hours at a regional college – so it should still be a good deal. That probably wouldn’t pay for the programs but it could substantially help.

    It also creates some nice feed-back circuits: The greater the degree to which such programs exclusively benefit students from upper-tier socio-economic classes, the more those families carry the budget (up to a point). The greater the degree to which, over the years, the program raises families out of poverty – the more evenly distributed this part of the budget becomes. The more effective these advanced programs are while still beating colleges on the price of credit hours, the more those who can will be willing to pay the fees that apply their socio-economic tier.

    ———–

    Almost finally: when it comes to folding required labs into the ordinary schedule, I think you’ll have a hard time beating the 5×3 trimester system like the one I linked to. It’s a nice system because you can squeeze in a bunch of electives and still have year-long 6 hour courses. The prep school I’m linking to there does, indeed, have extra-hours (even Saturday) classes, especially (perhaps exclusively) for esoteric electives and hyper-advanced courses – so the system doesn’t magic eliminate the need for the kind of extra-hours thing you are talking about. But it goes a long way to improving the regular-hours opportunities.

    Finally: what is your take on “small schools”? I think we ought to both kill them off and have a trimester system. Kids should be afforded the opportunity for academic specialization (e.g., following recommended curriculum tracks in a trimester system) without the lock-in and faculty factions. In its place, divide the kids into advisory houses (2-3 faculty per house), the houses into clusters (10-15 house faculty per cluster), and orthogonally assign each kid an out-of-house, out-of-cluster advisor who’s job is basically to adversarially monitor outcome vs.the cluster and house (e.g., to challenge the quality of advising). It’s unclear to me, however, that we have a faculty who are by in large up to it. For that matter, it’s unclear to me that we have a faculty up to filling out a catalog for a 5×3 trimester system.

  9. Can we get back to the topic, which is, I believe, how to address the needs of historically under-served students without holding back those who need and want the most challenging science classes possible?

    For whatever it’s worth, here’s my proposal:
    –Require ALL students at Berkeley High School to take at least two years of college-preparatory lab science (i.e. Advanced Biology, Chemistry, and/or Physics).
    –Integrate required labs for these courses into the ordinary instructional day.
    –Allow highly-motivated students to enroll concurrently in an additional AP section (funded with BSEP money) that would meet outside of the ordinary day (at least one hour a week but preferably more).*
    –Use “equity grants” to increase tutoring support for struggling students to enable all BHS grads to meet the minimum eligibility requirements in science for UC/CSU.
    –Integrate required labs for AP Environmental Science into the ordinary school day while seeking funds from other sources (e.g. BHSDG and BPEF) for field trips.*
    *The rationale for funding extra time for AP Chem, AP Bio, and AP Physics but not AP Enviro Sci, is simple: the first three courses cover a year of high school science plus at least a semester of college science in a single year whereas AP Environmental Science covers a semester’s worth of college material in a year.

  10. To every parent with children in Berkeley’s elementary and middle schools:

    Visit Berkeley High. Check out the scene near the school at lunch time. Read the posts here, at BPN and review the SCG and 2020 Vision meeting minutes. Then put your kid in the picture.

    If you see the need for change, you need to start now. If you wait till they’re freshmen, it will be too late. By the time you learn how to effect change, you’ll already be getting ready to leave.

  11. KQED 88.5 FM will devote an hour tomorrow, Wed 1/13/10, to the issue of science labs at BHS. 9 a.m.

  12. I’d appreciate it if people would keep on topic and keep it brief. Maybe we should all re-read the science teachers’ letter to remind us of the pertinent issue here.

  13. “new friend”,

    I’m not sure I take your point. Yes, there was a gaggle of cops, one aiming a rifle with deadly intent, finger on trigger.

    At least two and probably more of those cops were our local beat cops and it was quite comforting to see them. I know from previous encounters that they are very level headed and capable. Tough, honorable, culturally sensitive cops.

    It was quite a relief when the rifle-wielding cop had enough evidence to stand-down and take his finger off the trigger (for a moment, it looked to all of us like a much more complex chess game and I feared for the lives of the cops not to mention fear of stray bullets).

    The arrestee was a sad case once in custody but I give the cops the benefit of the doubt on her arrest. Odds are low but I hope the system helps her out. It was a messed up and tense morning. I would guess that, very likely, it’s a good bust – but I still have some sense of how she wound up in that position and some sympathy.

    You burble with your “oh, i’m going to be a gadfly” bull-hocky like “A whole gaggle of cops versus one “sobbing arrestee already in custodeee.” (Dylan’s influence is everywhere). What cowardly odds!”

    Grow up, ya jerk. Honest to god, who do you think you are? You are attacking a strawman, disrespecting me, disrespecting the cops, and disrespecting the young woman who was arrested. F U! Multiple people’s lives really took sharp turns that morning. It was a big freaking deal. I’m not, despite your best efforts to paint me otherwise, just some anti-cop twit. You ain’t funny and now you’re insulting and hurtful. Go to hell.

    The cops conducted some serious business. I, a bystander, woke up and staggered out the door only to have to retreat because of the threat of imminent gun-play ‘twixt cops and bad guys. All of this was fairly unsurprising as day to day events go around here and that’s the main point.

    You’re yammering like I have something against the strong showing of the cops there and you could not be more wrong. They were quite the pros, as usual around here. My main criticism is that after things calmed down, they needed to pry open the trunk of a car, and they took about 30 minutes to figure out how to do it. Really, it took three of them. They were a bit flummoxed in some mildly amusing ways, as things settle down. Finally, one of them owned up to some life experience and called for screwdriver, and got into the trunk right quick after that. But not after letting the rookie try and fail with a crow bar for a good 15 or 20 minutes.

  14. Dear Lord,

    I am honored to be a coward as you define them.

    what follows is copied and pasted from your last post:

    “But, let me tell you a couple of quick stories: Just a small number of days ago I stumbled outside in the A.M. only to find, at the foot my driveway, a Berkeley police officer (part of a gaggle of 12 or so) aiming a rifle with deadly intent and a finger on the trigger. There was one sobbing arrestee already in custodeee.”

    A whole gaggle of cops versus one “sobbing arrestee already in custodeee.” (Dylan’s influence is everywhere). What cowardly odds!

    Is there another interpretation? Don’t bother.

    So long T, I’ve distracted enough. What’s online, stays online. Forever. Mr. Google remembers everything.

  15. Peter Rose,

    “You have dominated this blog,”

    Mostly just these threads on this one topic. Also, “dominated” isn’t quite the right adjective.

    But, let me tell you a couple of quick stories:

    Just a small number of days ago I stumbled outside in the A.M. only to find, at the foot my driveway, a Berkeley police officer (part of a gaggle of 12 or so) aiming a rifle with deadly intent and a finger on the trigger. There was one sobbing arrestee already in custodeee.

    A few days later, but two blocks away, there was a quite serious gun-fight. Shut down traffic on Ashby and San Pablo. Never got any attention from “the press”.

    Perhaps a month or two ago a neighbor a block over suspected prowlers in the middle of the night and took to firing warning shots in the air. It actually took quite a few minutes for 911 to even pick up the phone because so many neighbors were calling all at once.

    Several months ago I wound up playing with a neighbor kid (a pre-schooler or perhaps first grade kid) who was thrilled to show off to me his skills at counting and simple arithmetic. He made some comments about not being very happy about the prospect of going home and eventually took a nap, leaning against me. His single-parent was later taken away to a psych ward.

    A lot of the brothers around here are fine, upstanding guys who respect their elders and are, as we say, hella protective of the little kids but at the same time there is a lot of outside pressure on the ‘hood that makes for some pretty damn uncomfortable choices.

    In spite of all that there are a lot of families that I don’t want to dwell upon, because I don’t want to over-expose or jinx them, who are doing a hell of a good job at raising their kids and just generally getting by.

    Against all that present circumstance, I have a hell of an educational background. I came from what counted as the wrong side of the tracks back when and got pretty damn far. I have a pretty extensive experience among both very good and very bad teachers and schools. I do have a dog in this fight.

    You write: “Please think about why you compulsively comment on a topic about which you have no direct experience–in fact,”

    Well, see, it’s actually because I do have direct experience-in-fact.

    Brother, if what you are coming here for is validation of your pre-concieved opinions then, surely, I’m detracting from that. I can’t help you there.

    “And yet you are posting on other blogs as well as this one concerning our local education issues???”

    Just one. The “other blog” is a forum for aspiring entrepreneurs / computer geeks. The high-tech industry leading nerds of tomorrow discuss and sort through a lot of national news (and many other topics) there. Berkeley’s science lab controversy showed up there and I contributed some perspective.

    “You confused test scores with budget data in your attempt to defend your belief that resources have been distributed in a lop-sided way to privileged students.”

    Cite, please? I don’t think that I did but I’m also not sure to what exactly you refer.

    “You questioned the maturity of a recent graduate who characterized himself as struggling and argued with him over the accuracy of his self-assessment.”

    Again, cite please? I think I recall the discussion to which you refer but I’m wondering what in particular irked you. Are you surprised at the questioning of the maturity of a recent grad?

    “You showed complete ignorance over qualification requirements for AP classes at BHS”

    No, I don’t think I did. I think I showed partial ignorance (just like you) and also questioned the extent of BHS’ extent of obligation to provide AP prep in the regular curriculum. My comments are based on having taken some AP tests and passing them, and on my experiences with good and bad educators.

    “You interpreted the state ed code in a goofy way and accused the person who posted the actual statute as interpreting it.”

    You mean where I pointed out that “parity” in the relevant statutes does not equate with “equal numbers of council members” and where I pointed out that there is additionally an important and relevant distinction between substantive and purely technical violations of parity?

    “And you sure don’t understand how FTEs are unequally distributed to small schools at the expense of most of the kids at the high school. That’s the real measure of resource allocation, by the way.”

    One of the things I do understand about small schools – just a minor anecdote, not any absolute refutation – is that the Gate’s foundation is one example of an org that solidly (and with lots of money) backed the idea, then measured the outcomes, then backed off the idea because the outcomes sucked.

    I’m inclined to think that individual teacher performance is way more important. I think in many matters Bill Gates is a complete jerk and some social matters I strongly disagree with him but on this one, he has me convinced. He’s not an idiot, by far, and he is will positioned and well intentioned. Check it out: http://blog.ted.com/2009/02/bill_gates_talk.php

    “Enough. Either practice basic blog etiquette or be a blowhard elsewhere. You’re taking advantage of a captive audience of people seeking information on what in the world is happening at Berkeley High, since the information is not forthcoming from the administrators.”

    Yes and no. I basically agree with you, really, but… Berkeley is a Small Town, so to speak. We should stand-down on all sides all at once. Failing that, I’ll continue to *try*, and I’m sure *imperfectly*, to elevate and sustain a peaceful disagreement.

    My suggestion, if you remain completely pissed off about and uninterested in my comments here — encourage our kind Berkeleyside overlords to improve their “Recent Comments” feature (those links on the right side of the page) to make it easier to see all comments in reverse temporal order and to make it easy to filter out, say, all comments from that jerk “TL”.

    You know?

    -t

  16. TL

    correction: “…I was WRITING over you, not to you…”. I’m sure this is difficult to follow, even without missing words.

  17. TL,

    I honestly assumed you would see that I was over you, not to you. I apologize for over estimating you. It’s a mistake I’ll try not to repeat, and will urge others to do the same.

    I was writing to Ms. Menard, Mr. Bryant and others like them, offering my appreciation for their efforts and marveling at their remarkable restraint.

  18. Mr. Lord,

    You have dominated this blog, not with the high quality of your debating skills, prose, or information shared, but with the volume of your posts. Please think about the fact that you have created more posts than anyone else on this blog and yet it’s obvious you have never stepped foot onto local school grounds. Please think about why you compulsively comment on a topic about which you have no direct experience–in fact, you might self-reflect on why you seem to be so interested in every little thing that happens on this blog.

    Unlike you, I don’t have time to step outside and watch the street in the morning. I don’t have time to compulsively respond to every comment on this blog, as you seem to be doing, or even read every comment . And yet you are posting on other blogs as well as this one concerning our local education issues???

    You have diminished the quality of this blog and I resent it. I don’t have time to scroll through a lot of useless pontificating. You confused test scores with budget data in your attempt to defend your belief that resources have been distributed in a lop-sided way to privileged students. You questioned the maturity of a recent graduate who characterized himself as struggling and argued with him over the accuracy of his self-assessment. What a waste of time for readers of this blog! You showed complete ignorance over qualification requirements for AP classes at BHS–you probably didn’t even know that BHS pays AP test fees for kids who can’t afford them and offers free tutoring for kids who need help. You interpreted the state ed code in a goofy way and accused the person who posted the actual statute as interpreting it. It calls for one community member for every school representative. If you can’t figure out why this type of balance is important, then you have not understood how conservative ideologues in Kansas and Delaware replaced evolution theory with creationism in their public schools. And you sure don’t understand how FTEs are unequally distributed to small schools at the expense of most of the kids at the high school. That’s the real measure of resource allocation, by the way.

    Enough. Either practice basic blog etiquette or be a blowhard elsewhere. You’re taking advantage of a captive audience of people seeking information on what in the world is happening at Berkeley High, since the information is not forthcoming from the administrators.

  19. Charles Bryant writes: “I assumed that what Slemp said is true, but whether that is true or not, such statements just make parents, teachers and other community members feel like they don’t matter, [….]”

    This, I agree with. I think that in his capacity as an effective politician and as a leader who makes the best of what his constituency has to offer, in these matters, Slemp has performed remarkably poorly. As I put it in another forum (a more “national forum” where I was explaining the situation to fellow computer geeks): part of the problem is that the principal might well be a [political] idiot.

    Basically, I agree with your entire comment, even though I think the principal’s “Action Plan” sounds like at least a good first approximation of a good plan.

    From my perspective, it’s frustrating that the possible virtues of the action plan are getting buried under Slemp’s poor politicing.

  20. Ms. Menard: “TL you live on the east side of Shattuck, this is not your neighborhood.”

    Ms. Menard, I live on Dohr St ‘twixt Ashby and Russel. This very much is my neighborhood.

    “Loose with facts, huh?”

    Speak for yourself?

    “Results, we can breathe easier knowing that the parents living adjacent this drug house can allow their kids to play in their yards without the fear of gunfire or needles.”

    Not really. Unfortunately.

    “Not to mention Longfellow kids will have a safer neighborhood to walk home through.”

    Indeed. My strategy for helping with that is this: I happen to get up damn early because of my wife’s job and the fact that I’m the one who normally makes breakfast. So I like to spend some early hours time just standing on the street, sneaking a smoke in front of our no-smoking apt. and keep eyes on the street. I’m frequently joined by various parents and grandparents. And no, it doesn’t work perfectly but it does do some good.

    “BUSD reforms for chronic truancy K-8 now include a referral to the DA. This is seen as a positive reform by the school board, not state sanction violence as you suggest.”

    I’m sure that all the people on the front line would agree that interventions that prevent the problem from escalating to that point are even more desirable. I agree with you without reservation that referral to the DA (and, ideally, CPS and the mental health services) is a very fine back-stop.

    “Your conclusion about the US constitution, lawsuits etc are pure nonsense.”

    Well, you are simply mistaken. Would you really like to review Constitutionally mandated property, privacy, and due process rights? I’m willing but I think it would be a bit tedious and unfair for Berkeleyside comment threads on the BHS topic so I would prefer e-mail for that.

  21. Re: TL comment on Slemp

    I assumed that what Slemp said is true, but whether that is true or not, such statements just make parents, teachers and other community members feel like they don’t matter, and all of the work and effort they have put forth in public meetings, etc., is meaningless and a waste of time. That is a generally an inappropriate way to deal with people in most situations, at least to my thinking.. People want to be involved and want to feel like they are at least being listened to and that their comments receive due consideration. People deserve answers to legitimate questions instead of being simply dismissed and condescended to. It has more to do with showing a basic level of respect for other peoples and their opinions, questions and comments, not the fact of whether or not the so called leadership at BHS is allowed to do whatever they want.

    Some leaders build consensus and a broader sense of community, while others create division and promote animosity. My only point is which do want running our schools?

  22. TL writes “And, even now, we have arrived at just about the least desirable viable outcome: a new addition to the blight problem in our neighborhood and further polarization along racial lines.”

    Loose with facts, huh?

    TL you live on the east side of Shattuck, this is not your neighborhood.

    Results, we can breathe easier knowing that the parents living adjacent this drug house can allow their kids to play in their yards without the fear of gunfire or needles. Not to mention Longfellow kids will have a safer neighborhood to walk home through.

    BUSD reforms for chronic truancy K-8 now include a referral to the DA. This is seen as a positive reform by the school board, not state sanction violence as you suggest.

    Your conclusion about the US constitution, lawsuits etc are pure nonsense.

  23. Ms. Menard,

    You write: “TL I have been trying not to react to your smug condescension, but dude you really are clueless.”

    I’m sorry I rub you the wrong way. I do think you are a bit quick on the trigger with that kind of dismissal of not only me, but many other people.

    You write: “Consider the millions the city has been spent for over two decades avoiding the abatement of the infamous drug house that is FINALLY being boarded up this morning. The city has a major operation going on as I write. And what did it take to get the city to do its primary job (public safety) we had to go to the grand jury to force accountability.”

    As nearly as I can tell, looking beyond your Hectoring, the painful length of that process has quite a lot to do with the US Constitution. Let us suppose that, years ago, the City had unilaterally acted and seized the property and boarded it up. How many millions do you suppose that would have cost the City in defensive lawsuits? And, even now, we have arrived at just about the least desirable viable outcome: a new addition to the blight problem in our neighborhood and further polarization along racial lines. Congratulations on your victory.

    You write: “In SF community groups concerned about AA and Latino drop out rates went to the grand jury back in the mid ’90s. The resulting report identified racial paternalism as the primary reason why both the school and city agencies were unwilling to enforce truancy laws. The current prosecution by the DA for educational neglect by parents is the first honest action to close the “parent gap”.”

    You are awfully fast and loose with accusations about other people’s honesty and awfully fast to reach for state-sanctioned violence as the primary cure to social ills. You’re also awfully selective about what evidence you cite.

    In Pittsburgh, PA there’s a private school specifically targeted at at-risk youths. So successful that there are several extensions of the program, one (as I understand) in Bay View / Hunter’s Point. Their solution to problems like truancy and lack of parental involvement is individualized attention and culturally sensitive nagging. Here, check it out: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/bill_strickland_makes_change_with_a_slide_show.html

    You write: “TL ask the 2020 folks why their report still has a placeholder for a truancy prevention plan.”

    I suppose that a part of the reason is that you aren’t digging in and engaging with them in a friendly way, using your energy to work that issue.

    “As to being seduced, I don’t do Kumbaya, especially with group whose leadership is hostile to families who have actually experiences REAL not perceived discrimination in our schools. UIA leader Michael Miller wrote me a couple of years ago one sentence “I don’t care what concerns you”.”

    That was wrong of him and it would be a shame if that turned you off the entire project.

  24. “[my] new friend”,

    There is *some* truth to what you say.

    For example, there would very possibly have been no City of Berkeley at all were it not for the school that became Cal. Perhaps we would be living in Oakland, or Richmond, or the City of Oceanside, or Ashby City.

    I would also one-up you and say that, were it not for Cal, we would not have Chez Panisse at all (or Peet’s, or Goines, or Ginsberg, or Telegraph-as-we-know-it, or….

    Were it not for Cal, I wonder if Ronald Reagan could ever have been elected president! (Where would he have gotten his social conservative creds with no place to which to send the national guard?)

    For that matter, without Cal, perhaps we would be living in a Japanese, Chinese, Russian, or German occupied territory!

    This is a fun game!

    And, yes, the vast conspiracy in favor of street-crapping is a constant and annoying presence at nearly any public civic gathering. I began to recognize how out of control it was that time when at a neighborhood earthquake preparedness meeting some snaggletoothed greying old hippy – a renter, mind you, not even a home owner – stood amidst the discussions of water barrels and first aid kits to say “Yes, yes, all of that is well and good but how does any of it advance, even one iota, our fundamental right to crap in the streets?” He punctuated his remarks with a personal demonstration sending three ladies and two gentlemen to their feinting couches before a heroic marine leaped into action and selflessly threw the first teenager upon whom he could lay hands atop the ordinance, to smother the blast.

    Which brings me to my serious point (my gosh, I actually almost have one):

    Let’s stipulate, although it is oversimplified, that Berkeley has long suffered from a case of being Berkeley – so to speak.

    The question arises as to the best treatment plan. Is there any hope for the patient? Perhaps purely paliative care terminating in assisted suicide is the most humane course? Or perhaps there is hope for a full recovery?

    Here is my question for you – my perhaps, how did you put it, nauseatingly Socratic Method for Dummies question:

    Is the best treatment here to aggravate by lampooning the wounds of stereotyping and polarization that divide local political discourse, all the while pointing to a variety of “social conservative” talking points as the prima facie One True Way? Or, might (in their dying breaths) those crazy lefties have a bit of point that the way forward is by establishing social mores and practices for conducting a friendly, inclusive civic discussion in which the name calling you illustrate isn’t at all prohibited, it just doesn’t get much rewarded – only frankly discussed and then set aside.

    If the proposal to alter the science lab schedule goes down, I hope it goes down for good reasons and not simply as a defeat of one set of political rivals by another. This is one of those times when the cliched admonishment applies: “Think of the children! Won’t someone please think of the children?!” It is by no means obvious that the reduction in science hours or moving of labs to regular periods is especially harmful to even a single BHS student. It seems quite plausible that the redirection of resources can benefit quite a few students. In an enlightened discourse, as contrasted with a snarky stand-up routine, we ought to be examining carefully how true those appearances are. When we resort to attacking old enemies, engaging in ad hominem, cracking rude jokes — I don’t think we’re good examples of enlightenment thinkers, do you?

    And hey, while I’ve got you, I’ll reiterate an idea I’ve mentioned before but that I still think could have legs. I’ll state it differently this time:

    Education and college prep doesn’t have to and is probably better if it does not come entirely from the high school. High school kids are transitioning to emancipation and adulthood. High school is a good age to start kicking them out of the system, at least a little, and getting them out into the “real world”.

    And here in Berkeley we are, as you rightly point out, highly privileged to have one of the best educated populations going and one of the most resource-rich environments.

    Let’s tap those folks up on the campus hills and ask them a favor, and let’s see what we can get going among ourselves: Let’s start some science clubs. Let’s work on expanding internship opportunities. Let’s take a hard look at the science book collection at the public library. That kind of thing. And we can do this for other fields as well, not just science. Those kinds of things are also a long-standing Berkeley tradition – perhaps the most rational response to the current situation is to double-down on them.

  25. Right on TL’s new friend,

    Consider the millions the city has been spent for over two decades avoiding the abatement of the infamous drug house that is FINALLY being boarded up this morning. The city has a major operation going on as I write. And what did it take to get the city to do its primary job (public safety) we had to go to the grand jury to force accountability.

    In SF community groups concerned about AA and Latino drop out rates went to the grand jury back in the mid ’90s. The resulting report identified racial paternalism as the primary reason why both the school and city agencies were unwilling to enforce truancy laws. The current prosecution by the DA for educational neglect by parents is the first honest action to close the “parent gap”.

    TL ask the 2020 folks why their report still has a placeholder for a truancy prevention plan.

    As to being seduced, I don’t do Kumbaya, especially with group whose leadership is hostile to families who have actually experiences REAL not perceived discrimination in our schools. UIA leader Michael Miller wrote me a couple of years ago one sentence “I don’t care what concerns you”.

    TL I have been trying not to react to your smug condescension, but dude you really are clueless.

  26. Ms. Hemphill, president of the Berkeley School Board, writes above:
    “For me, the focus of this discussion is that the current practice of having science labs only conducted during zero and 7th period (before and after the mandated school day) is out of compliance with standard pedagogy, national practice, and possibly even the California Education Code. This is a SEPARATE issue than the discussion around how best to address the achievement gap and the two should never have been intertwined.”

    Here’s what the BUSD Superintendent says:

    “To require students to come to school before or after school, as part of your required courses during school, just doesn’t seem very equitable to many of us,” Huyett said.

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/education&id=7200914

    As a former PR hack, here’s some advice, BUSD–get your stories straight before you go public.

  27. Comedienne Wanda Sykes does a sharp bit in in her new HBO special. She asks: “Why are they spending time and money trying to find out what Michael Jackson died of…We KNOW what he died of. He died of Michael Jackson! And he had a long time.”

    Likewise, Berkeley is sick from Berkeley. We’ve had it a long time:

    Since the encrusted entitled were allowed to wrap themselves in the mantle past glories, (yet without the stature they keep tripping on it, ending up saying sorry to the Marines, tree sitting and now the science labs.)

    Since the city’s been run by a a few hundred who’ve leveraged Berkeley’s intellectual and moral credibility into substantial and sustainable publicly funded incomes.

    Since our renown tolerance devolved into listless resignation over social expectations so low only bloody murder is a actionable offense these days. (Two years and a million bucks to pass a law that says we really ,really, mean those other laws about not crapping in the street, public drunkenness and extorting money form passers by?!)

    Since the city government started hating on the University. How frightening a meritocracy must be to our sacred cows – the continual moving forward, the questioning of commonly held beliefs, the disorienting desire for results. Admit it or not, without UC there’d be no here here. No grand movements, no national profile, no money, just Chez Pannisse in the heart of South Albany.

    This outrage over the BHS science labs is the first encouraging sign in a long time that Berkeley may yet recover from Berkeley.

  28. Bryant writes: “I think the recent statement by Mr. Slemp, as reported in the Planet, speaks volumes about how the current administration operates at BHS. He said, in effect, that he could do whatever he wanted to do as far as scheduling and academic programs were concerned and that he didn’t need the Board’s or anyone else’s permission to do so. He says he will present any proposed changes to the Board and others as a courtesy.”

    Slemp’s statement would appear to be a factual statement about the legal structure and a political statement about his modes of communication. If you want to criticize the “powers of the principal”, what legislative changes do you propose?

  29. Ms. Menard:

    You write: “If only this was true…”

    At this point, you are accusing a heck of a lot of people and signatory instutions, from many parts of society here, of conspiring in what would be a an easily exposed lie. You’re accusing everyone from Max Anderson to the Dean of Admissions (I forget the precise title) at Cal. You’re accusing some BHS teachers. You’re accusing Hemphill. The list goes on.

    You also comment, rather perplexingly, that the 2020 program is not “staffed” by BUSD. That appears to betray a deep misunderstanding of what’s going on.

    You also comment about why City council rejected BIRI recommendations and accepted 2020. Given that the Berkeley Aliance seems to promote the more comprehensive 2020 plan, I think you are wasting your time.

    You mention that BAPAC recommendations were incorporated into the Alcohol / Drug committee work but this hardly makes the committee “the result of your advocacy”.

    I think I don’t trust the people working 2020 uncritically. I think I don’t trust you uncritically. I think their outreach is really exemplary. I think your outreach is looking a bit tattered around the edges. I think that on substantive matters you and they aren’t that far apart and are both on plausibly good tracks.

    Mrs. Robinson, to turn the old quote around, I think we’d like to seduce you.

  30. I’d like to thank Wanda Brown for raising an important point regarding the failure of leadership at BHS. She wrote:

    “I went to the public meetings last year where parents were supposed to be able to say what they thought about the high school redesign. Let me tell you, I have never been treated so badly in my entire life and I was told I couldn’t talk.”

    Welcome to the club, Wanda.

    Having been involved in the earlier AHA math controversy at the start of the school year, in which AHA had offered math options to incoming freshmen, who signed up for courses in the 8th grade, and when school started, all those students who elected a math option other than IMP, were told there would no math options available for AHA students, who didn’t test into advanced courses. despite a full range of math course offerings available at BHS.

    Most all the other parents involved in this controversy and I encountered a brick wall when trying to discuss this “bait and switch” tactic with the administration. Each and every one us were treated by the BHS administration in a condescending and dismissive manner. Many were told that the administration knew what was best for our students, and if we thought otherwise, we were somehow misguided, uninformed and/or opposed to equity in education. It is these very tactics of pitting one group against the other, parents against parents, teachers against teachers, small schools against the larger school, that is hindering improvement to the educational programs and opportunities at BHS.

    I think the recent statement by Mr. Slemp, as reported in the Planet, speaks volumes about how the current administration operates at BHS. He said, in effect, that he could do whatever he wanted to do as far as scheduling and academic programs were concerned and that he didn’t need the Board’s or anyone else’s permission to do so. He says he will present any proposed changes to the Board and others as a courtesy.

    I honestly believe that every single parent, teacher, and community member wants the best educational opportunities available for every kid and all would like to see the achievement gap closed. We may not all agree on every aspect of how we may accomplish these task, but by acknowledging that we all have the same concerns, inviting broader community and parent input, and providing a comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of existing programs, I think we can move incrementally in the right direction without widespread changes.

    This toxic culture of divisiveness, dismissing out of hand all other views, which don’t conform to theirs, and the failure to treat parents, teachers and community members with the proper respect, evolves from the top down. BHS will never make progress on these important issues without new leadership; one that can support an open, inclusive process that unites people and build a true consensus on the best way to improve education at BHS. We need new leadership that believes in treating all parents, teachers and community members as if they matter.

    Slemp, it’s time to move on, and let BHS get back on track and move forward.

  31. One nice aspect of how the 2020 process is run is that it concentrates first on organizing: bringing all stake-holder institutions and individuals to the table to help refine the vision, agree on priorities, and agree on multi-institution implementation strategies.

    If only this was true……..

  32. “There is considerable overlap between, for example, the 2007 “Schools Mental Health Strategic Plan” and the 2020 vision. ULSS (Universal Learning Supports System) is an element of the 2020 plan. It’s unclear to me that there is a contest here between competing plans.”

    Good question but a better question would be is how well the district is doing implementing this system. The answer is this year the program is not staffed when I checked a month ago.

    You see Thomas, Berkeley is great on buzz words compliant essay contests, grants and the like, lousy on system implementation or sustainability. The one constant so far is Berkeley rarely delivers, but is great is job creation.
    And yea, why did the school board cave to the city council political pressure to adopt the 2020 plan rather than follow the BIRI recommendations and actually implement BIRI first?

    Since you are new to all of this, check in with Alliance director about the process of convincing UIA that BIRI was useful.

    Jay works for RDA and prior to that the Oakland Forum, which is the model for the Alliance, town gown relationship. So I have seen this process from before it fully launched.

    There isn’t much you can explain to me about truancy or AOD prevention in Berkeley. The city’s AOD action plan uses our BAPAC prevention recommendations.

  33. To those whose stomach’s turn reading such “Socratic Method for Dummies” inspired responses to Ms. Menard and other long time contributing members of our community , I suggest the following.

    1. Demand, via email to the school board, that the BHS SGC meetings be recorded and broadcast on our public access channel.

    2. Tivo the broadcasts and invite your neighborhood stakeholders over for refreshments and viewing.

    Only then will all of us be able to see such intriguing developments as the bum’s rush given to the superintendent and the two board members who attended the last SGC meeting in hopes of opening a dialogue between the two bodies. Only then will Slemp’s scowling, gum smacking arms folded, brilliant performance of contempt (for the board attendees) be fully appreciated. Hear for yourself the horror stories of when , years ago, the SGC had nearly been co-opted by “well funded and connected” (white?) parents. Marvel at the unity, the inevitable (yet purely coincidental) oneness of voice with which challenges are identified and remedies sought.

    If that doesn’t spur you to action, you deserve the results.

  34. Ms. Menard, two quick things:

    You write: “I meant […] ‘We do NOT check race/ethnicity boxes.'”

    I still don’t see your point. I am guessing you are saying that you believe society should be rigorously “colorblind”? Or that the data about racial disparities in Berkeley are skewed?

    In any event, I am struck by the contrast in tone and approach between the 2020 meeting and your messages. They seem pretty skilled at building broad bases of support and bringing about cheerful and enthusiastic inter-agency cooperation. They also seem a lot less dogmatic about race than I think you think they are. Please consider digging in.

    One area that interests me to which it sounds like your husband could also contribute expertise would be reviewing and recomputing their number crunching. You have an interest in transparency. So one project might be to get 2020 to release its data sets, information about their provenance, and a detailed (mathematically formal) description of what kind of analyses they performed (and how the data was handled). As friendly skeptics, we could make sure that this data gets on the web. Highlight its gaps and areas where quality is in question. And double check their math and computations. We could also test alternative theories (such as location being the main predictor) against the same data.

  35. You write: “2. BIRI recommendations are superior to 2020 recommendations,
    see report on Alliance website.”

    There is considerable overlap between, for example, the 2007 “Schools Mental Health Strategic Plan” and the 2020 vision. ULSS (Unversal Learning Supports System) is an element of the 2020 plan. It’s unclear to me that there is a contest here between competing plans.

    You write: “4. Nice to see Hemphill pressing the city to build data collection capacity (2×2 minutes), in particular a tool called the shared youth data archive, used for multi-agencies case management and program evaluation (I have been promoting this for over a decade after my husband built one of the first for SF)”

    I think you’ll therefore find it to be good news that expanding data collection capacity, as well as integrating collected data into ongoing strategic planning, is a key element of the 2020 vision. One nice aspect of how the 2020 process is run is that it concentrates first on organizing: bringing all stake-holder institutions and individuals to the table to help refine the vision, agree on priorities, and agree on multi-institution implementation strategies.

    The school board and other agencies are, of course, free to unilaterally begin implementing any part of the 2020 vision themselves, at any time. That is apparently happening in several areas. The 2020 process can improve the outcome of such efforts by helping to coordinate agencies and helping to solicit improvements to plans from diverse sources.

    (Ms. Hemphill was at the 2020 meeting, for what it is worth.)

    You write: “5. Truancy, AOD and neighborhood environmental prevention should get at least the same attention as UIA hyper focus on racism.”

    I suspect you will find that the best predictor for truancy, AOD troubles, and neighborhood environmental problems in Berkeley is… race. The 2020 vision is aiming to attack all three, in no small part by seeking a better understanding of and remedies for their systemic causes.

    You ask: “Other than those starters Thomas why would you ask a damaged radical (your description) whose conclusions are “bogus” for an opinion?”

    As I said: I think that some of your criticisms are valid and I believe you have a lot of knowledge of the history and the situation.

    Also, it’s a fine point, but I didn’t call you a “damaged radical”. I said that your position on some of these issues (e.g., “fire Slemp!”) is radicalized. And, well, they are (e.g., “fire Slemp!” is, in the current climate, a radical demand). Holding a radicalized position on some issues doesn’t make a person “a radical”. Similarly, I have no idea and make no claims as to whether or not you are a “damaged” person but we are all human and traumatic events can change our ways of thinking about some issues in ways that others are not automatically right to follow.

    You write: “I think it sad that you missed the importance of what I have actually accomplished.”

    I didn’t realize that we were here to talk about *you* but, ok, let’s see:

    “1. Both my kids are excellent examples of how to support youth resiliency, health and academic potential despite grave obstacles, the very model of what 2020 claims to be concerned about. They were raised in the targeted neighborhoods identified by city public health dept for health and academic disparities. We do check race or ethnicity boxes. We are individuals.”

    Congratulations on your kids successes!

    I have contemplated but can’t really figure out why you say “We do check race or ethnicity boxes. We are individuals.” The latter statement seems tautological. I gather that the former statement was intended to be somehow pointed but don’t see what the point might be.

    “2. Unlike most parents who have endured school administrative abuses/ failures so great as to cause children failure to thrive, I chose to work on the solutions to protect all kids from such injustices.”

    Again, congratulations. I’m sure it has been very hard, self-sacrificing work all the way. You are privileged to have had the education level, ability to make the time, money, and a cultural background that gave you some confidence operating among the “corridors of power”, so to speak. I gather than many parents who share such privilege don’t try to help in those ways so you have every reason to brag.

    “5. I contributed enormously to environmental prevention in addressing the conditions which give rise to social disorder and crime in south Berkeley. Neighborhood is in fact a far more accurate predictor of academic achievement than race. My husband recently mapped Oakland kids for math proficiency, the results follow what national research tells us, property is a primary predicator of academic success.”

    The 2020 folks report differently. They claim to have done correlation tests for a wide range of academic performance measurements and many other variables: race, location, and socio-economic class. Per them, in Berkeley, race consistently came out as the strongest predictor.

    Peer reviewed studies of Berkeley would be helpful, at this point.

    That said, environmental conditions are obviously a very large part of many problems. We can agree on at least that abstract point.

    “6. My husband builds the very tools for cities, counties, school districts that Berkeley continues to be incapable of accomplishing. Therefore during my years of youth services advocacy I had information which I shared with officials, some of which was incorporated in what is developing now.”

    That’s an interesting disclosure. I’m a software engineer. Is there a web site on which I can read about the systems of which you speak?

    “7. The district/city AOD committee is a result of my persistent advocacy. ”

    From the news reporting I had the impression that a much larger group of people did and led the work that led to the committee and formed its charter and initial agenda. Do I stand corrected? Were they all idle on the matter without your advocacy?

  36. Dear Thomas,

    A p.s. re: Style.

    “Penultimately”! – (from your last response to Ms. Menard) A thesaurus corrupts, an online thesaurus corrupts absolutely.

  37. Dear Thomas,

    Gadflying for fun and public appointment (or office) is a cherished tradition in Berkeley. The opportunities abound: rent board, the ZAB etc.. And once ensconced in the collegial atmosphere of these bodies you’ll find the necessity of presenting thoughtful opinion drops off considerably. However, here, in a forum featuring both equal access and many bright non-choir members, one must guard against (over) exposing one’s actual reasoning capacity.

  38. Thomas in answer to your question,
    1. Couple of years ago I was responsible for insisting the Berkeley Alliance meetings comply with the brown act so agendas and minutes would posted for public review. That took two years of reminders to city attorney and city manager.
    2. BIRI recommendations are superior to 2020 recommendations,
    see report on Alliance website
    3.Selawsky and Issel comments during the joint session are the right place to start
    4. Nice to see Hemphill pressing the city to build data collection capacity
    (2×2 minutes), in particular a tool called the shared youth data archive, used for multi-agencies case management and program evaluation (I have been promoting this for over a decade after my husband built one of the first for SF)
    5. Truancy, AOD and neighborhood environmental prevention should get at least the same attention as UIA hyper focus on racism.

    Other than those starters Thomas why would you ask a damaged radical (your description) whose conclusions are “bogus” for an opinion?
    To speak for myself, I think it sad that you missed the importance of what I have actually accomplished.
    1. Both my kids are excellent examples of how to support youth resiliency, health and academic potential despite grave obstacles, the very model of what 2020 claims to be concerned about. They were raised in the targeted neighborhoods identified by city public health dept for health and academic disparities. We do check race or ethnicity boxes. We are individuals.
    2. Unlike most parents who have endured school administrative abuses/ failures so great as to cause children failure to thrive, I chose to work on the solutions to protect all kids from such injustices.
    3. I have demonstrated how not to suffer the provincial thinking that cripples Berkeley.
    4. I am not a “privileged white hill person” by any means. I am not a college grad. I graduated from a continuation program.
    5. I contributed enormously to environmental prevention in addressing the conditions which give rise to social disorder and crime in south Berkeley. Neighborhood is in fact a far more accurate predictor of academic achievement than race. My husband recently mapped Oakland kids for math proficiency, the results follow what national research tells us, property is a primary predicator of academic success.
    6. My husband builds the very tools for cities, counties, school districts that Berkeley continues to be incapable of accomplishing. Therefore during my years of youth services advocacy I had information which I shared with officials, some of which was incorporated in what is developing now.
    7. The district/city AOD committee is a result of my persistent advocacy.

    And contrary to your conclusion Thomas, we did succeed. But we still need a new administrator at BHS who does not spend 50% of his time visioning.

  39. Ms. Menard,

    I appreciate your comments. I also think I don’t want to draw this particular thread between us out into an argument right here right now. That’s for a couple of reasons: I’m somewhat aware of some of the s-t that has come down on you and your family in recent years and what I’ve heard of happening to you folks just plain isn’t right, no matter what. And I can see how it would tend to “radicalize” a person on these political matters, even if I don’t entirely agree that that radicalization is the wise direction. Also, I’m somewhat aware of your substantial engagement in civic matters and fully believe that you are privy to a perspective that is only imperfectly reflected in the press, even if there some points here or there where I think your conclusions are bogus. Penultimately, I don’t think it’s critical that either of us “win” the debate, here and now, on points about which we disagree. Finally, I think the emerging discussion not just here but city-wide is making progress – so we can be a little bit relaxed about sorting out what differences we may have.

    All that said, I went back and reviewed what I could find about Slemp and the consent decree and so forth. I really don’t share your conclusions although I do think you have some important and valid criticisms among what you say. We’ll see.

    On the legal issues around the governance council, I still think you are fighting a purely technical and tactical battle of little substance and that the most likely outcome is that you help to waste a lot of time money in a court of equity where your technical correctness will be acknowledged but little else will change (and for valid reasons). I think you’re barking up the wrong tree, there.

    Lastly, I had the great pleasure today of attending a community meeting for the 2020 plan (thanks Deidre, even though you sent me to the wrong address and I had to bike back across town in a hurry! 🙂

    I was really impressed not just with the agenda but also with the very skilled approach to that agenda.

    Were you there? (I’m not sure what you look like although I gather we live within a few blocks of one another.) What are your feelings about the 2020 plan and process?

    Regards,
    -t

    p.s.: hope the plaster went well.

  40. Thomas,

    Slemp is a known liability to the BUSD by the Supt, board and the entire district staff. More importantly contrary to your suggestion parents (however capable and persistent) do not have the power you suggest. There are limited systems for accountability in public education.

    It is principal Slemp who is responsible for the consent decree imposed on BUSD a few years ago. Yet he still hasn’t learned from his mistakes, this fall he tried the same nonsense, finally the district stepped in, since it is costly to maintain the necessary legal support and takes district staff away from actually helping kids. Education dollars wasted because of poor practice by a rogue principal.

    Slemp is notorious for not maintaining student suspension documentation and then when the shit hits the fan because the student has injured his 20th victim, under pressure from teachers Slemp demands the district transfer the kid. This is what really happened in the lawsuit for “alleged” discrimination and the resulting legal monitoring. Supt Lawrence selected a fall guy to cover for Slemp. This is yet another story local papers missed.

    As for my complaint regarding SB 187 compliance and the complaint about site council rules, there are separate but followed the same process. The district still does not comply with the formal complaint process even after the earlier state audit resulted in the district having to publish the parent student handbook informing the community of their rights. I know because this one of reforms I contributed to this community.

    Thomas if you really are that interested in the history of district efforts to comply with site council governance read through school board minutes over the last ten years. The fact the Supt attended a governance meeting last week with the policy subcommittee says is all. You might find it interesting to know that when during the years I served on the PTA council one of our best efforts was to organize the fall site council training session for all K-12 teams provided by the county board of education trainers. We are pleased that the district has adopted this practice and hope the high school governance team will finally participate. I am also waiting to see BUSD take advantage of the county resources for school safety planning. Until my complaint was resolved Berkeley was the only district in the county that had never attended any Safe School training programs. I had implicitly stated in my complaint that the matter could be resolved by simply sending staff to attend the CDE training and use the excellent resources they make available. Gee how reasonable is that, I get it you would like to paint me and others are angry righteous complainers. Just stop, it won’t fly.

    As to the Planet coverage about the after school violence, I am the parent in the story, and the situation was far more problematic than described.
    The point I was making again is the ABSENT principal, it is a well known to BPD, city of Berkeley officials and the general community that Slemp is hands off with school safety and has refused to send supervision downtown at lunch or afterschool to the various hotspots. Last year the new Supt finally publicly stated at a 2×2 meeting that the ed code’s section duty to protect applies, and that the school should be sending supervisor or admin downtown during off campus lunch period. Also in the reporting take note, Ng and Keys are classified employees; they are not in a position of authority to make statements to the press on student status. Interesting that Keys the “lead” safety officer selected by Slemp to input student discipline and crime data into the records system states that he cannot determine if the teens were students. Hmmm……

    My utter lack of trust in Slemp is far more than personal as I have helped numerous parents whose kids were victims of serious crimes and the school staff failed miserably. Thomas based on your online enthusiastic interest in education I would have enjoyed your participation in those open public meetings where parents developed strategies to right these wrongs.

    as to the question of is it personal, absolutely, and I still pride myself on being one of the people who can make Slemp put his head in his hands and sweat. One of my sons was cheated a decent high school education and placed in a difficult position because of Slemp’s abdication for student safety. My kid is the stand up in the Express story Party 2 nite R U Goin, once labeled snitch he received dozens of threats, some from school computers, I provided all the evidence to Slemp who refused to take disciplinary action.

    see ya, gotta get back to the plaster repairs.

  41. Ms. Burke, my problem with your interpretation is the definition of “parity” and structure of the paragraph in question. Parsing it out, it says that there should be parity between groups (a) and (b). It also describes who is in group (a) and who is group (b).

    So, there has to parity between school folks on the one side (group (a)) and parents and students on the other (group (b)).

    Parity, however, does not have to mean numerically equal representation. It only requires that both groups (a) and groups (b) have the same power.

    By analogy, the federal House and Senate have parity on most legislative matters: both must pass a bill before it can be sent to the President and either may block the bill. So they have parity. But in a bar fight, the Senate would be badly outnumbered – more than four to one.

    That’s why I think it matters whether or not there was a *substantive* violation of parity in this matter which would be the case if the 8 parent/student representatives voted 5-3 or worse against. If the parent/student vote was 4-4, that would especially highlight that the voting rules are messed up need reform. But if the vote was 3-5 or better in favor, then no substantive violation of parity would seem to have occurred.

    The state law you cite is pretty intrusive and micro-managing. It’s pretty remarkable law in that way. At the same time, it appears to be deliberately constructed so as to *not* dictate such details as how many council members there will be, how they are selected, how often they meet, what voting procedures they use, etc. The only constraint of relevance there is “parity” — “equal power” — between groups (a) and (b).

    If the council as currently chartered and run uses a simple majority vote, allowing a majority of parent/student reps to be overridden, then yes there is a technical violation there. If that technical violation had no impact on outcomes, though, then its a minor technical issue that’s easily fixed. The fix does not *have* to mean increasing the number of parent/student representatives.

  42. Regarding rules for the high school’s SGC per Ed Code sec 52852:

    “At the secondary level the council shall be constituted to ensure
    parity between (a) the principal, classroom teachers and other school
    personnel; and (b) equal numbers of parents, or other community
    members selected by parents, and pupils.”

    The Berkeley High SGC has 22% community (4 parents, 4 students) and 77% school representatives (27 principal, teachers, classified staff). It has been this way for years, despite the Ed Code quoted above which calls for 50% community and 50% high school representatives.

    A complaint was filed about this violation years ago with BUSD, so the school board was informed of this but chose not to pursue the matter.

    To make things worse, not only does the principal try to ensure only his supporters are on the SGC, but the school representatives who do not support the principal’s plans are subject to retribution.

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with the principal’s views on education, this situation is illegal and the school board has failed to ensure that the district is run in accordance with the California Education Code.

  43. Also, you write: “For a good example read today Planet’s coverage of a recent violent incident and recognize the missing piece, a capable engaged principal. [… see link above …]”

    Nothing in the article you cite justifies your “missing piece” accusation.

    You also say:

    “Do not renew Slemp’s contract, how can the board support an executive who consistently retaliates against parents, students and teachers while ignoring critical responsibilities to the community.”

    I’m not sure you have to exhort so. I’m increasingly convinced that you and a handful of others will run the guy out of town without a lot of additional effort. I’m also increasingly convinced that that will be a damn shame if it comes to pass.

  44. Ms. Menard,

    You are challenging the governance council on the grounds of a statute which says their must be “parity” between representatives from the school, and representatives of parents and students.

    According to the Berkeley Daily Planet, the council has 20 members from the school, and 8 representing parents and students.

    “Parity” would have been substantively violated if and only if, in the case at hand, 5 or more of the parent student representatives were opposed to the action plan.

    My question to you is a simple factual question: how many of those 8 voted “nay”? If the answer is 5 or more, I think your technical challenge has merit. If the answer is 3 or less, I think your technical challenge is frivolous. If the answer is 4, then we do indeed have an Interesting Situation that would give your challenge considerable merit (in my opinion).

    What was the actual vote?

  45. Thanks Maureen,

    Adding to the COMPLIANCE issues,

    Karen could you please explain when will the school board require BHS prepare a School Safety plan as required by SB 187? We did have some pretty strong earthquakes last year!

    I reestablished the safety committee in 2001 and over the next two years we steadily developed a functioning committee. Then Jim Slemp was hired. He did not want the school community to know what kind of problems existed so he squashed the committee, lied and submitted the same plan I drafted in 2003 for the next four years. Every year the SGC (Carol Lashof) would rubber stamp the same document without any review for implementation or accountability. In 2007 and 2008 I filed a series of formal complaints. Neither the school board nor the Supt ever bothered to respond to any of the complaints which are a requirement under state law, so the complaint automatically goes to the CDE. Eventually BUSD was scheduled for a Compliance Program Monitoring process, specifically regarding Slemp misuse of a grant and his refusal to allow the community to review the results of CA Health Kids Survey. However BUSD was spared that scrutiny when the monitoring process was canceled due to state budget crisis.

    BUSD is more political than most districts, there is always a hidden agenda, and rarely is there transparency, community involvement or compliance with state law. This has got to stop, these our kids and this is their future. Hoping your kid gets through BHS ok is not good enough.

    For a good example read today Planet’s coverage of a recent violent incident and recognize the missing piece, a capable engaged principal.

    http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2010-01-07/article/34451?headline=Teenagers-Arrested-in-Downtown-Fight-Arrests-Made-in-West-Berkeley-Shooting

    Do not renew Slemp’s contract, how can the board support an executive who consistently retaliates against parents, students and teachers while ignoring critical responsibilities to the community.

  46. Ms. Hemphill writes:

    “For me, the focus of this discussion is that the current practice of having science labs only conducted during zero and 7th period (before and after the mandated school day) is out of compliance with standard pedagogy, national practice, and possibly even the California Education Code. This is a SEPARATE issue than the discussion around how best to address the achievement gap and the two should never have been intertwined.”

    How could the issue of science labs and equity not be intertwined, given that the SGC voted to take money from science labs and give it to undefined Equity Grants? The 12/08/09 SGC minutes state:
    “The SGC will review proposals for Equity Grants that will utilize the enhancement money that is equivalent to 6.0 FTE and is primarily used for science labs.”

    As for whether there is a violation of the Ed Code, I applaud BUSD for finally showing some concern for this issue. Perhaps the blatant, long-term and ongoing Ed Code violation of the high school’s SGC composition will finally be addressed (see Ed Code sec 52852 on parity).

    And if indeed there is a concern over possible Ed Code violations in offering required courses during a newly defined part of the day that is not now considered the regular school day, the public would appreciate a citation of the specific statute.

    Ed Code sec 37253(a) states:
    “The governing board of any school district and a charter school may offer supplemental instructional programs in mathematics, science, or other core academic areas designated by the Superintendent of Public Instruction.” This statute supports offering science labs in zero/seventh periods. Let’s not play semantic games with the meaning of supplemental in its above use, or hopefully not pit lawyer against lawyer.

    Regarding what constitutes a school day, the School Board voted on a bell schedule last June that started with zero period at 7:30 a.m. and ended with seventh period at 3:30 pm.

    This newly found concern over classes that take place during zero and/or seventh period is confounding. For years many classes have been scheduled for zero/seventh periods. A partial list of classes (many required) offered during zero/seventh periods in the 2001/2002 school year include:
    Writing, AP Literature, World Media, Yearbook, Social Living, English Backup, Integrated Science I, Advanced Bio, IMP 2A, Honors Geometry, Geometry, Advanced Photo, Ceramics 1, Jazz Band, Chorus, Badminton, Soccer, Team Sports, French 7/8, ELD, AP Spanish, Spanish 3/4, Spanish 1/2, Journalism, World Lit, American Lit, Jacket/Journalism, Common Ground US History, CAS Best History, American Govt., Algebra 2, Math Analysis, Algebra 1, C++, Drawing, Band, and more.

    I truly do not understand this newly found concern over course offerings during zero/seventh periods. Hopefully the public will learn before school starts next year what other activities will be affected such as the yearbook, the Jacket newspaper, the jazz band, the orchestra, and more. And if only science labs are axed, it will be interesting to follow that path of reasoning.

    There are numerous examples of BHS not following standard pedagogy or national practice and I would not put science labs in first or last period as an example of such. But if there really is concern over this issue, then perhaps BHS will stop forcing students to enroll in IMP math, which is used in less than 1% of California schools and has been characterized by Professor Wu at UC Berkeley (former chair of the math dept) as completely ineffective.

    I can only scratch my head at this latest rationale for reducing academic instructional minutes in science classes.

  47. Karen,

    I am “shocked” that you claim to “shocked” about the purposeful dismantling of double period science by the small school advocates, the very folks who elected you to school board and worked your campaign. How is it possible that you missed this? especially since the moving of labs to 0 and 7th was discussed repeatedly at election forums.

    I strongly suggest the school board review the 7 period day schedule potential: including on-campus lunch, resource period mandated for below proficient students in math and English, advisory as an elective and expand the music program, including choral as per Logan High model.

  48. It’s unclear to me what, exactly, the presumed difference is between “instructional time” and “lab time”. I remember my lab periods as being chock full of instruction. Conversely, I remember many, many *lecture* periods where it would have been vastly more efficient to skip the lecture and instead hand out a few pages of annotated “slide”.

    People keep saying that folding the labs into the ordinary periods will cut down on instructional time. Well, I don’t think any course should be taking more than 6 hours per week, and ideally 5, and perhaps 4. Every hour in the course should be “instructional”, even the ones where kids have a test tube or some frog guts in their hands. Lectures are usually the *least* efficient way to spend instructional time, in many subjects.

  49. For me, the focus of this discussion is that the current practice of having science labs only conducted during zero and 7th period (before and after the mandated school day) is out of compliance with standard pedagogy, national practice, and possibly even the California Education Code. This is a SEPARATE issue than the discussion around how best to address the achievement gap and the two should never have been intertwined.

    Quite frankly, I was shocked to discover that science lab was regularly taught 0/7 period. How can a core academic class have a course requirement only available to be taken outside of regular, mandated school hours? How can a core requirement (science lab) be considered “enrichment”? Its not enrichment is part of what’s required for high school level science. Also, according to district records, the Board has never approved an extension of the school day for science lab, so its not clear to me how science lab conducted this way is an authorized part of a science class grade.

    Addressing these issues WILL be a challenge in what is likely to be ugly financial times as the State’s budget deficit is only getting worse but the District has to find a way to have science labs within mandated school hours. As Board President, I have asked the Superintendent to have the high school make a proposal to have science lab as part of the mandated school day in late January/early February for implementation next year. As yet, this issue has only been discussed at the high school NOT at the Board.

    I am VERY committed to quality science education (daughter of a behavioral psychologist and married to an astrophysicist – consider myself a liberal arts science “geek”) and absolutely see this issue as critical to establishing a quality science program at the high school. I understand the concern that incorporating science lab within the school day may result in less instructional time (and look forward to the high school addressing this concern in its new science proposal) but conducting science lab only outside of mandated school hours is simply not a tenable way to continue.

    Karen Hemphill

  50. We applaud the recent decision by Berkeley High School to integrate science labs into the regular school day.

    When our older daughter was at BHS, she took three AP Science classes and received perfect scores on the corresponding exams, so we appreciate the value of the AP science program and very much hope that these courses will remain available for all students who are ready for them.

    But for every science-obsessed teenager who happily spends several hours a day on challenging physics or chemistry problems, there are many more who struggle through AP science courses short of sleep, anxiety-ridden, and even paying $80/hour for private tutoring. Under the current system, many students feel pressured to enroll in AP science courses beginning in their sophomore year. And if they resist this pressure, they may find that the level of their classes is below the appropriate standard because so many of the more ambitious students have opted for AP classes. Science courses ordinarily offered to 9th-11th grade students should be rigorous college-preparatory courses. And it should be possible for these courses to be taught effectively within the regular six-period school day, as are all other such core academic classes.

  51. The latest and lamest explanation for why current science labs are inequitable is that only privileged students can attend labs outside of the regular school day of periods 1-6. Wow. The school day has always been defined as periods 0-7 or more, and was never labeled inequitable until now. This new contorted path of reasoning means the jazz band, lab band, youth orchestra, sports teams, peer tutoring, the Jacket student newspaper and the yearbook will have to be labeled inequitable as well and also receive the axe. This is getting to be like an article out of the Onion.

    Since the principal has repeatedly claimed that Berkeley High must prepare all its students for college, then he has to acknowledge that it requires a minimum of 2 years of lab science classes to be eligible for the CSUs and 3 years for the UCs. For all students. So I guess the original storyline that science labs are only for privileged students fell flat from a lack of internal logic and they’re trying out this latest narrative.

    I wonder what the reason for science labs during 0 or 7th period being inequitable will be next week?

    http://www.reddit.com has picked up the story and there are over 1,300 comments there.

  52. Deirdre: your point is critical, b/c I think its unrealistic to expect BHS to rectify such substantial ills in such a short time. You can’t take a child that is already way behind and expect to have them catch up with so little time left on the clock. There should be better measures/data to explain to parents – at the earliest possible ages – what factors are most important in having their children succeed.

  53. Gross says: “I say let’s see first if there are other clues to the “achievement gap” that are rooted more directly in basic parameters like ….attendance or homework completion than race.”

    Yes, let’s see about that. An efficient means of doing so, well established in practice, is to assign each student an academic adviser and each adviser a manageable number of students. The adviser’s role shall be to communicate to the students the expectations and to offer some guidance about how to achieve that level of basic responsibility. Meanwhile, by pooling and collectively analyzing their notes, the advisers will be able to very directly answer questions about things like “basic performance” (attendance, and such). We want that data – we want that data with high quality – advisors are the efficient way to both get that data and have a simple intervention point for improving the metrics.

    So, we need some money to pay for such advisers. And, there’s not a lot of fat in most places in the system but the advanced science stuff won’t obviously be much harmed by a bit of a trim, at least if the faculty is competent. And here we are.

  54. While heavy debate continues about addressing this issue at the high school level, strategies at the elementary and pre-K level seem just as critical or more so. Some things I ponder, as a client of BUSD’s public elementary system:
    *Evidence from the Harlem Children’s Project and other sites indicate that the greatest gains can be made at the pre-K level. Yet the Berkeley Alliance and BUSD seem not to have enlisted California’s “First Five” program in developing their 2020 Vision.
    *The 2020 Vision presents a picture, a vision, for what the future could look like. But what should the measurement be to achieve the vision? I would very much like to see effort made to target various cohorts of BUSD kids to track what’s working and what’s not. Let’s try to agree on just a very few variables that we can spend money to track accurately by following cohorts of kids. Otherwise, kids seem to float in and out of the system across different schools between Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville. If we can’t track cohorts, we can’t assess results.
    *The 2020 Vision, and almost any other measure of academic success, makes clear that parental/neighborhood/family involvement are crucial. Yet to those of us parents in the early elementary years, there doesn’t seem to be enough commitment demanded of parents. I wonder if the consequences of not doing homework, of missing school, of showing up late, etc are really being spelled out to enough families at the early grades. As a classroom volunteer, I see these consequences so very clearly even in the first few months of kindergarten. Yet sometimes it seems like staff are fearful of alienating parents by telling them the consequences of this kind of leniency. I get the feeing that some teachers are quite fearful of alienating parents who are already somewhat outside the system. Some teachers at the 4th and 5th grade level are giving parents the harsh reality, but it needs to come sooner.
    *Berkeley prides itself on maintaining one of the nation’s most intensive school integration policies. Does anyone understand whether there is a connection between this policy and our achievement gap? I don’t have an explanation here. I’m just puzzled about it all.

  55. I realized I didn’t include the student’s quote:

    “Junior Kacey Holt thinks there is a sure way students can help close the gap.

    “I think they need to talk with their teachers and get more tutoring, after school programs, and basically show up for class,” he said.”

  56. T Lord, you ask Max where did the $$ come from to pay for that advantage?

    How about his parents who paid property tax for 17 years while he was a student?

    How about the fact that if he went to a state public university, that was a class he didn’t have to take that allowed someone else to take it?

    The cost/benefit analysis is not as simple as you make it out… and I submit that if you distort the cost/benefit equation too much against those contributing most of the tax base, there will be a reaction to that as well, either by moving from the area, or simply sending kids to private schools.

    While I can’t speak for Max, what I read between the lines supports this notion, namely, that the incremental $$ are not yielding an equivalent benefit.

    More to the merits, there was a point made by a student from BHS today in the news, I thought it was worth repeating:

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/education&id=7200914

    Again I am not convinced the resources are not already there. What I strongly suspect from reading this and other blog posts is that the existing resources are not being used adequately/correctly. I say let’s see first if there are other clues to the “achievement gap” that are rooted more directly in basic parameters like ….attendance or homework completion than race.

    good talkin’ to ya

    JNG

  57. Max:

    You write: “We’re not going to fix the serious problems with our educational system by wasting scarce resources and class time on stuff which doesn’t provide an educational benefit.”

    Well, nobody on either side is proposing wasing scarce resources and class time on stuff which doesn’t provide an educational benefit so you are attacking a straw-man.

    You write: “Taking science resources away from students isn’t going to help marginalized youth. It’s going to hurt them. Science labs provide much-needed help for struggling students (they stopped me from failing AP Chemistry)”

    You ought to be mature enough as a BHS graduate to know that the mere fact that you qualified to *take* AP Chemistry means that you were *not* a “struggling student” in the sense of that term being used in this discussion. It is interesting that you are not.

    Finally, you account that BHS saved your family $5K on college costs. Now, where did the money come from to pay for that advantage? And how disproportionately was it spent for your benefit? And, how certain are you that you could not have achieved those same savings without the extra science periods, but with improvements in other parts of the curriculum and operation of the school?

  58. Deirdre,

    Thank you. I’m in. With the qualifications that (a) I reserve the right to forget, space, or blow-off the meeting for whatever reason without loss of face; (b) As you point out, I’m an outsider to the process coming in so, even in attending, I’m sure to be naive about the work heretofore. Yeah, I’m sure there are “better” things I could do Saturday morning but few that are more worth doing.

    Thanks for the heads up.

    -t

  59. As a recent BHS grad, I can say that this is an awful decision. I had a great experience with the BHS science program, and I got a year of college credit out of the way for free (something which cutting labs will take away). My parents aren’t loaded, and BHS’s science labs saved my parents around $5,000 (one year of college science plus textbooks and materials). A lot of my classmates at BHS, (ESPECIALLY those from marginalized groups) simply can’t afford an extra five thousand dollars to get their college science requirements together.

    I’m living in Canada right now, and it’s shocking how much better their public schools are (and how much better those public schools have been at dealing with their own equity gap). Canadian public schools dedicate serious resources to serious subjects – reading, writing, math, and yes, science – and it shows. US schools lag far behind most other developed countries. Worldwide, we’re 21st in science, 25th in math, and 82 percent of public high school students don’t end up getting a college degree. We’re not going to fix the serious problems with our educational system by wasting scarce resources and class time on stuff which doesn’t provide an educational benefit.

    Taking science resources away from students isn’t going to help marginalized youth. It’s going to hurt them. Science labs provide much-needed help for struggling students (they stopped me from failing AP Chemistry) and they save us thousands of dollars in college tuition by providing college credit. Principal Slemp is a nice guy who cares a lot about his students, but he’s totally wrong on this issue.

  60. Hey there, Thomas Lord — you have been a patient witness to this whole complex struggle on the BUSD achievement gap, even though you’re not presently a ‘member’ of the school system so to speak…. I was interested in knowing whether you might want to attend the upcoming meeting on the Berkeley Alliance 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth. I’ve already been to two of the presentations myself, and as a PTA officer I am already feeling a little too invested in my own parochial viewpoint. It would be interesting to hear about it from someone such as yourself. If you’d care to attend and be a fly on the wall, here is the information (and, if you happen to have a few better things to do on a Saturday than attend a meeting, I understand perfectly!!!)
    “Saturday, January 9 2010, from 10 am to 12 noon at James Kenny Recreation Center, 8th and Delaware. The 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth is a community-wide movement to ensure academic success and wellbeing for all children and youth growing up in Berkeley, by closing the achievement and health gaps in Berkeley’s public schools by the year 2020. Please join us to learn more about 2020 Vision, give your thoughtful input, and help guide this important work!”

  61. I noticed something today. I was thinking about the plight of high achieving students at BHS in the face of cut-backs on programs that favor them. I was doing some spot comparisons to a private school with a pretty decent track record at advancing high achievement students (Phillips Academy, Andover).

    At Andover, they still use a trimester system. At BHS, a trimester proposal was recently rejected. The comparison is a little bit misleading – some Andover courses are “year long” or, as they put it, “a full year commitment”. It’s not like you get to take 3/2 as many courses. But you can squeeze in more minor courses on a trimester schedule.

    At Andover, there are indeed 8 class periods on the bell schedule however students need special permission (with some strict conditions) to be permitted to take more or less than 5 courses at once, adding up to perhaps 23 or 27 hours. It’s an 8-period bell schedule but students are supposed to have around 5 class periods per day. This is as it was when I was there (about 27-25 years ago). It works out nicely. I spent my free hours, often, playing (self educating) in the computer labs or the library.

    At Andover, the most ridiculously advanced science courses (e.g., the biology course where students spend lab time doing genetic engineering) take up 6 hours per week. That would roughly fit in a modified BHS schedule without extra-period science labs but with one double-period in the advanced science courses (and a five-courses-at-a-time norm, with some 4-hour courses in the mix).

    One conclusion I begin to reach is that if you want your high achieving student at BHS to have a private school quality of education: you should be demanding less classroom time, not more (and also better libraries and other opportunities for self-education). Less classroom time probably also adds up to smaller classes – wealthy though it is, Andover is nothing if not Yankee-style frugal.

    Another thing about Andover, very imperfectly implemented in my day but probably improved by then (from what I can tell): Every student has an academic adviser and every adviser a manageable number of advisees – with mandatory meetings on a regular schedule. My advisor back in the day sucked rocks through a straw, so to speak. He was an old-school sadist, still smarting from the admission of girls into the formerly all-boys school. He was the dismal exception. Mostly advising seems to pay off – somewhere between mentoring and acting in loco parentis. (Funny story, off topic, about the admission of girls to the school. The younger faculty members, one let me know, managed to get the old school faculty, like my adviser, to agree to admitting girls by playing to their prejudices – intimating that they had to let girls in because, well, the boys are starting to bugger one another in the dark hallways. Sick political trick but true (well, true enough, it’s hard to compress the full story into just a few words).)

    Antipenultimate comparison: at Andover, and I remember having a real love/hate relationship to this – *daily* and mostly *vigorous* athletics is mandatory, every term. The academic day was interrupted by (in my case) intramural ultimate frisbee, cross-country skiing (which, absent snow, turned out to be mostly just jogging in the mud), etc. The BHS web site suggests that BHS has but 5 PE instructors. Andover had a similar ratio but a good solution: ALL ABLE BODIED FACULTY AND ADMINISTRATION were required to help with the athletic program. Thus, our ultimate frisbee games were overseen (and played in) by a guy from the music department. The skiing/jogging was overseen (and joined in) by a guy from the administration (dean of students). Very nearly (not exactly, but nearly) every single student spent an hour or an hour and a half getting a half decent workout, most days of the week, often in a team-building environment. I was always the fat kid. I hated sports on one level. I love every minute of it in retrospect. I can’t tell you how important and valuable this component was, though. Words fail me. I’ll just say that it’s critical, in my opinion. Parent-age over-achievers no doubt know the value of daily exercise. Well, HS is a good place to start.

    Penultimate comparison: A half-decent diet was assured. This is also critical. BHS is in some ways way beyond Andover in this department (better offerings) and in another way, way behind (dismal participation). I’m not so sure about this whole “open campus” thing for lunch. I’m also not so sure BHS is wise to schedule campus-wide nutrition breaks rather than having groups of students take them at different times. Regarding scheduling: it’s a good thing if students can’t always meet their friends for lunch because of conflicting class schedules.

    Final (ultimate) comparison: Every single student at Andover, in my day, had a job. I presume but don’t know this rule is still in place. The system at Andover was imperfect but I’ll describe it and offer my corrections: The jobs were called “work duty” and you got them by assignment (roughly a lottery though the faculty could make exceptions). Example jobs: washing dishes in the cafeteria (back in the 50s, waiting and bussing tables in the cafeteria); groundskeeping; shoveling snow…. that kind of thing. Just a few hours per week, but mandatory. The cynical view is that that simply saved the school money but, really, it was much more than that. Consider washing dishes: On the one hand, students have to work with and be supervised by the bottom rung of the hired staff. On the other hand, students are given incentive to submit their dirty dishes for washing in a considerate way because, next term, it could be them who has to deal with the mess. On the third hand, students gain some confidence in their ability to, needs be, flip burgers for money, so to speak. Andover had it slightly wrong (probably still does) in that the work was mandatory but there were no wages. There should be wages, even if they are “funny money” that can only be spent on, say, basic school supplies or school lunches.

    So, why do I embarrass myself “bragging” about my experience at Andover — a school which I do NOT recommend and have harsh criticisms of in other contexts?

    It is because some of the vitriol I see against the principal’s action plan for BHS seems to come from middle-to-high-achieving student parents who are loathe to see a reduction in classroom time for science. My message to such parents is that you aren’t looking at the big picture. Students the caliber of your children thrive at places like Andover with *less* class time but a *more well rounded* educational experience with individualized attention by an adviser and high expectations and imposed responsibilities. Beef up athletics. Implement “work duty”. Keep kids on campus for a good lunch. Give kids idle hours, nearly every day (which struggling kids can spend on being tutored). Don’t fret so much about the number of hours in science beyond a certain point (say, equivalent (whatever that is) to 6 hours/week at the very highest (AP and beyond) level). Don’t think it’s wise for kids to have much at all beyond 25hrs/wk classroom time. Start to think holistically about the system and your kids.

  62. Right on Wanda, please make your statement publicly to the school board.
    This community continues to suffer this same farce repeatedly, while parents hope for the best till their kids escape. The only redesign we need is to fire the tyrant Slemp and hire a competent, accountable principal, a serious Supt and and accountable board of education.

    These so called progressives are the worst racial paternalist imaginable. Lord knows if your kid actually does experience discrimination in Berkeley schools, then no one gives a damn. I wish I never raised my kids in Berkeley, they both barely made it through intact. The oldest was saved by double period science instruction, the youngest is struggling in college, woefully unprepared, thanks to Jim Slemp dismantling of any program at BHS that actually delivers.

  63. I’m a black single mother of 3 children in Berkeley. All my children go to local schools. And although I have a policy of never responding to anonymous posters like Fact Checker, that person has hit all my buttons and I bet you anything it’s a female white liberal with some guilt problem. Guess what? You do not speak for me.

    First, you said that the high school people listened to what the community had to say and we did not convince them. You’re wrong on this point, like you are on just about everything else you claim. I went to the public meetings last year where parents were supposed to be able to say what they thought about the high school redesign. Let me tell you, I have never been treated so badly in my entire life and I was told I couldn’t talk. So the high school people definitely do not listen-they don’t even let people talk or ask questions at public meetings.

    And guess what else miss white liberal? It’s not up to the Berkeley community to convince the high school people about our points of view. It’s up to the high school people to convince us that what they’re doing is in the best interests of our children.

    I have lost all confidence in the principal and you so-called progressives who are so patronizing it gives me a stomachache just thinking about it. You have no idea how hard I worked to have a job that pays my rent and lets me raise my 3 kids alone. I want my children to have the same education they’d get if I could afford to live in Piedmont or send them to private schools. But I can’t. So don’t you tell me what’s best for me or my children. And don’t you tell me that it’s selfish for any parent to want the best education they can get for their own children. That kind of talk is one big waste of time. I want my kids to have good science labs and good math and good education. So shut up with your crap about personal needs and the need for my kids to sit in a class about equity. That’s the last thing they need and as far as I’m concerned, it will only hurt them.

  64. I stand corrected about the sequence of events regarding the board and approval of the grant. Perhaps I am naive but I don’t see the

    “The $3.6 million encumbered by the matching funds requirement of this grant either goes to staff time devoted to staff development and in-kind support, which means less time available for those crusty things like actual professional management and teaching, or else the statements in the grant proposal are fraudulent.”

    The total FTE for teaching students at BHS is unchanged. The grant provides additional FTE for professional development and leadership. I’m not sure what you mean by “crusty things like professional management”.

    “I would only add that the reason this matters is because this grant is why academic instructional time for science labs and other entities is at risk, whether you wanna have it as a separate period or within a class period. Given the dire economic condition of BUSD, it would be a smart move to rescind this grant and the $3.6 million encumbrance.”

    Academic instructional time for science labs is not impacted by this grant. There is a temporal relationship between the school site discussion about how to use its Measure A funds and the grant but various groups have been asking for a conversation about this for years now, long before BHS got a grant from the feds. I would love to hear from someone as to how it was decided (and by whom) that the majority of the Measure A funds would go solely to SOME of the science classes. Can you imagine that proposal having to go before the school board? “We have this great idea. We want to give more instructional time to the kids who are doing well at school and less time to the kids who are struggling. And if you are in an AP class we will give you even more time! Yes, we know that the resources will be allocated along racial and socio economic lines.”

    The school has a responsibility to teach all of its students and shouldn’t cater to the well heeled, influential, and privilaged class at the expense of those without such access and resources. I know you agree with me on this point: Putting personal needs above the needs of the greater school community is the pinnacle of selfishness.

  65. I’ll quote from the 8/11/08 BUSD School Board packet, page 5:

    “The United States Department of Education (USDE) has indicated that it will fund a Smaller Learning Community grant at Berkeley High School provided that the Board of Education gives assurances the attached grant proposal will be fully implemented. The USDE imposed this additional requirement when it was discovered that the Board did not give prior approval to the grant itself and that a consultant submitted the application in the name of the District.”

    That doesn’t sound like business as usual to me.

    The $3.6 million encumbered by the matching funds requirement of this grant either goes to staff time devoted to staff development and in-kind support, which means less time available for those crusty things like actual professional management and teaching, or else the statements in the grant proposal are fraudulent.

    Readers can come to their own conclusions. I would only add that the reason this matters is because this grant is why academic instructional time for science labs and other entities is at risk, whether you wanna have it as a separate period or within a class period. Given the dire economic condition of BUSD, it would be a smart move to rescind this grant and the $3.6 million encumbrance.

    And I suggest people identify themselves to show their support for the concept of transparency.

  66. Ms. Burke,
    What you are citing as required matching funds includes the salaries for administrators, parent liaisons, lead teachers, and benefits among other things. ALL of these items are costs the district pays regardless of whether or not BHS had gotten the federal grant. Why not include all teachers’ salaries and just say the “redesign” will cost around 100 Million over five years? It is misleading to suggest that these are costs as a result of the grant. Clearly you and I know the difference but others less informed might not.

    What is the purpose of statements such as “submitted without board approval”? Grants for extra resources for BUSD are written, received, and spent all the time without board approval. And by the way, after it was awarded to BHS by the feds the board approved the accepting of the money. The receiving of a large grant from the federal government should be applauded rather than looked at askance as though it were part of some nefarious plot.

    You said: “If non-lab science classes have worse outcomes for students, then all the more reason to support science labs for all students.” Based on the single data points (not a good method for analyzing programs by the way) you provided above, I would argue that that money would be better spent on English and math. To evaluate a program’s effectiveness, you really want to look at the change in scores over time. And the use of a state test, which high school students place no value upon, would probably not be the metric you would want to use. This is why I would strongly encourage the district, or at least the high school, to use a value added method to analyze programs and practices. Single data points don’t tell us anything about the effectiveness of those programs but only that they attract different types of students.

    Nobody thinks science labs should be eliminated. The use of this phrase is intentionally misleading since all they are talking about is the doing of labs within the class-which is what EVERY other school in the country does at the high school level. What we are really talking about is giving extra teaching time to SOME BHS science students and not to all of them. Here is the National Science teachers association position on labs:
    -With the expectation of science instruction every day, all middle level students should have multiple opportunities every week to explore science labs as defined in the Introduction. At the high school level, all students should be in the science lab or field, collecting data every week while exploring science labs.
    -Laboratory investigations in the middle and high school classroom should help all students develop a growing understanding of the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work, as well as the skills to calibrate and troubleshoot equipment used to make observations. Learners should understand measurement error; and have the skills to aggregate, interpret, and present the resulting data (NRC 2006, p. 77).
    -As students progress through middle and high school, they should improve their ability to collaborate effectively with others in carrying out complex tasks, share the work of the task, assume different roles at different times, and contribute and respond to ideas.

    There is no mention of after school labs because this is not the standard of practice at the high school level.

    I agree that if we give more teaching time to students in science classes they will do better. Currently the “non-lab” science classes still have labs-they just do them in the classroom. Increasing the teaching time by 20% (40% for some AP classes) should increase outcomes by an equivalent amount. Has anyone done an analysis to see if that is indeed what we are getting? If we aren’t getting at least that much at baseline then we are not getting our money’s worth.

    While I am in no position to correct the “problem” of Paul Gibson and Associates having a conflict of interest, I did use my typing skills to send an email and I found out that they are no longer doing the evaluation of the grant.

    My position:
    -All kids should leave high school knowing how to read, write, work together to solve problems, and do math at an appropriate level.
    -All kids should take more science with labs. Those labs should be in the classroom, which is the standard of practice at the high school level.
    -The measure A funds should be used in a way that is determined by the high school teachers and administration. If they choose to use it for science labs as they have in the past so be it (although I may disagree I trust they will have a solid rational). If they use my tax dollars for helping all kids read/write/do math I think it will be a better use of the funds.

  67. One of the worst things for failing students at BHS has been the principal’s refusal to let them retake courses they failed the prior semester. Students used to be able to retake say, chemistry A in the spring if they had flunked it in the fall. The new policy, instituted by a principal who is calling for seeing everything through an equity lens, requires all students to complete year-long courses in sequence. So if a student fails chemistry A in the fall, they have to take chemistry B in the spring. This not only sets up students for failure, it ensures that they won’t learn the material and I would hope that is what we all want to see happen. This sort of mis-step is what has so many of us confounded and angry because there has been absolutely no comprehensive review of how to proceed with sound education policy. The only common thread in the block scheduling plan, the trimester plan, and now the science lab elimination plan has been reduction in academic instructional minutes.

    So I find the above advice on focusing on a happy and healthy child particularly unctuous. Poorly educated children are neither happy nor healthy.

    Get the students up to grade level in middle school, increase academic instructional minutes, maintain science labs, and let kids repeat a semester of a class they’ve failed. Why aren’t those of you who are so adamant about eliminating science labs championing these sure-fire and simple measures?

  68. Dear “Fact Checker,”

    The Dept of Ed grant that was submitted without school board approval is for $1,013,530 for 5 years, with an additional $700K possible in year 4 if the high school is in compliance with grant terms. The required matching funds (that will have to come out of the BUSD general fund and Measure A) are about $3.6 million, for a total budget of $5,298,688. So this grant for the Berkeley High redesign is costing the school district $3.6 million over 5 years, not giving the school district $1 million.

    The line item for contractual expenses for outside consultants is $688,500. BayCES receives $596K and Paul Gibson & Associates receives $92,500. By the way, this consultant surely should not be on the school governance council, where he votes for measures from which he directly benefits financially, and where he supports measures of which he is supposedly the independent evaluator. I’m sure you will work to correct this situation, since you profess support of non-political data analysis.

    The 180 page grant proposal is found on the BUSD website under the 8/08 school board meeting agenda/minutes.

    If non-lab science classes have worse outcomes for students, then all the more reason to support science labs for all students. Let’s have labs for those non-lab science classes and compare results. Science labs are taken by most of the students in Berkeley High, not just white students. They’re for everyone, although they help struggling students the most.

    I do not believe small schools are held to a much higher level of accountability than the rest of the high school. Please share your evidence. Certainly small schools have more classrooms and more teachers per student, with average class sizes more than 15% smaller than the rest of the high school, and the results are much worse than the rest of the high school. Here’s the percentage of students who are proficient or above in math:
    2006
    AHA Small School 12%
    CAS Small School 11.5%
    CPA Small School 7.7%
    SSJE Small School 6.7%
    (no separate data for AC/BIHS)
    2007
    AHA Small School 12.0%
    CAS Small School 4.8%
    CPA Small School 3.6%
    SSJE Small School 7.1%
    BIHS (IB) Program 39.2%
    Academic Choice Program 36.3%
    2008
    AHA Small School 20%
    CAS Small School 5%
    CPA Small School 2%
    SSJE Small School 11%
    BIHS (IB) Program 31%
    Academic Choice Program 32%

    Since Berkeley High’s school site council and school governance council are under investigation for being out of compliance with the state education code, their votes are illegitimate and do not reflect any community consensus. It is becoming more apparent by the day that the Berkeley community will do what it takes to preserve science labs for every kid at Berkeley High.

  69. Thomas,

    Just two points since I have kid duty this Saturday morning:

    I think this is still an unsupported conclusory statement. These folks are failing the baseline, but I don’t see anything concrete to show that they are “under” served. Again, if we had some real data on the programs, their capacity, their effectiveness, etc., then we could test your premise.

    I guess we disagree on what is an acceptable level of proof on this point.

    I submit that if the proponents stopped talking about the achievement GAP – thus putting into play the comparison to other groups – your point would be more valid. But they don’t pitch it as a failure by one or more groups to meet baseline; rather, they harp on the lack of “equity” in a system that results in a GAP. Thus to me at least they don’t hide their real goal or agenda.

    Furthermore there’s simply no denying the intended cause and effect present here; the action takes away from one group with the intent to benefit another. Where is the analysis that suggests this is the best way to improve the underachievers? Why don’t we cut (hypothetical) janitorial services? Or some other non-academic cost?

    take care

    JNG

  70. Here is some information that will keep your thoughts on this subject fact based:

    1. Unfortunately BHS did NOT get a 5M dollar grant. It is closer to 1.7 million over several years with the potential of a two-year extension.

    2. Almost all of the money goes to supporting teachers in the roles of professional development leaders at a 20% release from classroom teaching. The idea is to strengthen teaching practices so all kids get a challenging education. Not an easy task but not an impossible one either.

    3. BAYCES gets some money but it isn’t that much (around 40K per year at the most).

    4. Not all science classes got additional funding (0.25 FTE vs. .20 for other classes) for labs outside of periods 1-6. Science classes for struggling students (read mostly black kids and kids with disabilities) got 25% less time with their teachers than classes for higher achieving (read mostly white kids). AP science classes got even more additional time. The “non-lab” science classes had very poor outcomes as far as student passing rates go I have been told while the AP classes did great. Not much of a surprise: The more time the teachers had with the kids the better they did. But the policy falls along racial lines: black kids in general get less academic time with their teachers and fail while white kids get more time and do better as a result. Berkeley may have been one of the first schools to begin integration but they are obviously far from taking the task beyond the level of symbolism. Can you imagine if BHS was proposing this as their “plan” for the future? One really has to wonder how the current design ever got approved. It must have begun when they were going through a new principal every six months and clearly nobody was paying attention.

    With the elimination of the after school science lab science teachers will have to teach five periods a day-just like all the other teachers at BHS. Even with this increase in their workload many of the science teachers I have talked to support the proposed changes.

    5. The small schools are actually held to a much higher level of accountability than the larger programs. I believe if you go to the BUSD school board notes from the past you will see that they have to annually present a report on the academic progress of their students.

    6. All over the nation high school kids are receiving their science education within their regularly scheduled classes. And many of these kids are getting first class educations as well as being inspired by the wonders of science.

    7. The choice of how to use the measure A funds are determined by the school sites. There is no inherent right for it to go to science labs for some kids.

    Now for some opinions (other than the ones that slipped in above):
    1. Increase the science requirements for ALL students. We live in an increasingly technological world and there is no such thing as knowing too much about the world. Just distribute the resources equally along racial lines for goodness sake.

    2. Stop acting as though Jim Slemp (and/or BAYCES) is some evil puppet master trying to destroy education. The kind of stuff I read here sometimes belongs on Faux News and the Glen Beck show.

    3. Just because people don’t agree with your opinion DOESN’T mean you weren’t heard. It just means they aren’t convinced by your arguments.

    4. The causes of the achievement gap are complex but that can not be an excuse for not trying. The solutions the school should consider are the ones that are within their locus of control: curriculum, resource allocation, and academic support.

    5. Data and accountability needs to be handled in a professional and not political manner. i strongly recommend that BUSD adopt a “value added” analysis to all current and future programs and practices. How else are we going to know if what we are doing with our money is having any impact?

    6. Focus less on how many AP classes a kid can take and a bit more on how we can grow healthy and happy young adults. Help them get some balance in their lives.

  71. Ms. Gross,

    You asked ““The current disbursement of that budget is lopsided, leaving behind underclass students, African American students, and to a lesser extent Hispanic students.” / Where did you come up with this data?”

    I came to that opinion mainly from two sources. One is the link that Roxanne gives above, which I’ll repeat here:

    http://api.cde.ca.gov/AcntRpt2009/2009APRSchAYPChart.aspx?allcds=01611430131177

    Under-achievement at BHS is disproportionately a phenomenon of underclass, African-American, and to a lesser extent Hispanic students. Note that we’re not talking about failure to achieve at the highest levels, we’re talking about failure to achieve at a baseline of desired competency. I conclude from that that systemically, these groups are under-served. I don’t conclude “it’s all BHS’ fault” because obviously there are systemic problems in the larger society. Still, BHS’ highest priority goal, it seems to me, is aim at getting all students up to that baseline of achievement.

    The other way I reach that conclusion is by reading the principals introduction to the plan. One cornerstone of his plan is simply making sure that all students are “known” to the faculty as opposed to simply passing through, achieving poorly, in relative anonymity and without intervention. This seems to me like a real problem and the right direction for a real solution to how BHS can begin to do its part of addressing the systematic failure to adequately serve underclass and some minority students.

    You write: “It seems to me that your basic premise is that social engineering is a good thing.”

    Well, to paraphrase the old joke, “We’ve already established that dear, we’re only quibbling over price.” That is to say that BHS has certain goals by charter – i.e., base competence for all students. It has a finite budget. It has a menu of ways to try to achieve the goal using the budget. It’s social engineering if we don’t ding the science labs. It’s social engineering if we do ding the science labs. There is nothing that can be done about this issue, one way or the other, that is not social engineering.

    You write: “Namely, we should focus our efforts on achieving equal performance, as opposed to equal opportunity.”

    As nearly as I can tell, nobody on either side is trying to focus on achieving equal performance. Period. That seems to be the biggest myth surrounding this whole flap. It’s not equal performance that is the primary goal but, rather, establishing a baseline of performance which, ideally, all students reach. That a subset of students can and will go far beyond that baseline is not the problem – it’s a good thing. That a large number of students, selected largely along class and race lines, fall below that baseline is the real problem.

    You write: “IMO one simple solution is to offer everyone the option to succeed and meet the baseline goal you mention. If they fail to avail themselves of such option, I don’t see where it serves any purpose to reduce the options of those who do want to succeed,”

    The purpose served is trying to allocate a finite budget to achieve the chartered goals of the school in order of priority – to align spending with mission.

    How about this as a straw-man alternative: fire all the teachers and staff, sell the buildings, and disburse the entire BHS budget in the form of annual checks to each household with a high-school aged student. In an economic sense, we’ll have absolute equality of opportunity. Probably (hopefully) you agree that would be a horrible idea. So, instead, we have to spend that finite budget on the school. Which students needs are the highest priority, and to what extent? How do you draw that line? The baseline achievement goals may be arbitrary but I think some arbitrary line is necessary to prioritize goals and it is hard to think of a better goal.

    You say: “I don’t agree with the notion that simply b/c a few bright programmers were kicked out of school early but were still successful is a model for other scientific disciplines. Having graduated from Caltech, I can testify firsthand to the difference in knowledge sets required for good performance in something like CS compared to say basic Chemistry.”

    Certainly CS and Chemistry are different. What I think is constant between them is that high achievement is most often, and best, the result of mostly self-directed and informally-mentored learning beyond basic orientation. A good goal for classroom time and advising structure is trying to get kids into that self-driving mode. A good goal for a campus is to be part of an environment where that self-driving mode finds opportunity.

    As a straw-man compromise proposal for the science labs what do you think of this notion: Yes, cancel the lab periods but don’t take all of that money away from science – only part of it. Put the remainder towards funding a faculty-advised “science club” that has some access to the lab facilities, that encourages self-directed learning, and that emphasizes student-on-student mentoring (with a focus on also attracting students who perform poorly in science classrooms)?

    You write: “So at this point I am in the camp that thinks that there has been no showing that the current programs are inadequate to serve underachieving students. In this respect the fact that there is still an achievement gap does not tell me one way or the other if such programs are effective. Let’s look at some real data, like the capacity of the programs, the number of kids in such programs that attend, the number that could attend but don’t, the class attendance rate for enrollees, their achievement rate, etc., before concluding that robbing Peter to pay Paul makes sense.”

    I would like to see some better metrics all around, as well. That’s one very frustrating aspect of the whole debate. That said:

    Let’s take something like the class attendance rate and what to do about it. One notion (yours?) is to say “Well, BHS isn’t forcing anyone to not show up so, it’s job is done just by holding open the seat.” I don’t buy it. I think its legit for BHS to step up in loco parentis and hold kids accountable. If the actual parent is there to step up then great! But if not, I don’t think it’s consistent with the mission of a public high school to just throw up our arms and say “those kids get what they deserve”.

    You wrote: “Thanks for reading, I enjoy your commentaries.”

    Thank you for writing. One thing that I think we both agree about is that the debate is impoverished by the lack of solid data and basic analysis. The arguments against the principal’s plan that I try to reject are those that come from the notion that it is in principle wrong to cut back on science lab hours to help under-achieving students. The arguments against the plan that I like are the ones that point out how vague the plan is, how much what details it contains lack a clearly stated rationale, and how hard it is to understand the problem from the paucity of commonly available data. I think as concerned citizens we’re kind of between a rock and a hard place trying to pick this or that outcome for which to advocate.

  72. Thomas L, you certainly seem “engaged” on this topic, and have a lot of strong insights on the problems involved. My question is this:

    “The current disbursement of that budget is lopsided, leaving behind underclass students, African American students, and to a lesser extent Hispanic students.”

    Where did you come up with this data?

    Your other comment states:

    “It seems to me that BHS has a baseline achievement goal which is the highest priority: all students should achieve that baseline. The $1 is better spent on programs that bring us closer to that baseline goal.”

    It seems to me that your basic premise is that social engineering is a good thing. Namely, we should focus our efforts on achieving equal performance, as opposed to equal opportunity. My problem with that logic is that it imposes an artificial standard that is impossible to achieve and simply leads to the kind of gamesmanship we are seeing now.

    IMO one simple solution is to offer everyone the option to succeed and meet the baseline goal you mention. If they fail to avail themselves of such option, I don’t see where it serves any purpose to reduce the options of those who do want to succeed, and in fact are trying to make as good a use of the facilities as they can. I don’t agree with the notion that simply b/c a few bright programmers were kicked out of school early but were still successful is a model for other scientific disciplines. Having graduated from Caltech, I can testify firsthand to the difference in knowledge sets required for good performance in something like CS compared to say basic Chemistry.

    So at this point I am in the camp that thinks that there has been no showing that the current programs are inadequate to serve underachieving students. In this respect the fact that there is still an achievement gap does not tell me one way or the other if such programs are effective. Let’s look at some real data, like the capacity of the programs, the number of kids in such programs that attend, the number that could attend but don’t, the class attendance rate for enrollees, their achievement rate, etc., before concluding that robbing Peter to pay Paul makes sense.

    Thanks for reading, I enjoy your commentaries.

  73. The proposed advisory program for Berkeley High will not provide one-on-one relationships between teachers and students. Teacher student loads would increase from about 140 students to 160 students. And there are not enough classrooms to support such small classes at Berkeley High at any rate, since the Measure AA $116 million bond money designated specifically for classrooms at Berkeley High has all been spent and there are now fewer classrooms than there were before we all voted for the 2000 bond measure. We were promised yearly audits of those bond monies. Didn’t get them. Now BUSD intends to float another bond issue for, guess what? Classrooms at Berkeley High. So I see the $555 BSEP line item on my property tax bill that I assumed would continue to fund science labs and is now in question, and I see the bond measures for which we’ll pay into the foreseeable future, and I see the amount of money BUSD wastes, and I say fuggitaboutit. Berkeley residents already paid for classrooms at Berkeley High and they didn’t happen. No way we should be billed twice, given that there is no real oversight and no accountability and no transparency. It’s a very sad day when you have to file public record act requests to obtain basic information out of your own public school district.

  74. Alicia,

    I think that in your comparison you do not accurately summarize the ethic of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and you do not accurately summarize the principal’s plan. You are making an obscene equivocation. I’ve met people who fled the Cultural Revolution. You are really not helping your case by trying to draw those bogus lines. Please drop that bit of rhetoric and let’s continue civilly by focusing on your logic:

    You say that the BHS plan is based on “no-one should be better than average.” Do you realize that “average” has somewhere between little and nothing to do with what we are talking about here? At least in the sense you are using the term? There is a baseline of performance against which students are being measured, not an average. This isn’t grading on a curve – this is about a notion of what competencies amount to a basic education. We have a lot of students below that competency and the demographics of those underachievers indicate a disproportionate representation along economic class and racial lines.

    Cutting sports programs is an interesting suggestion. Just as there are lots of opportunities in Berkeley for advanced science or humanities achievement, there are ample opportunities for athletic achievement. So, please, by all means: what part of which athletic programs do you propose to put on the table here and what do you think the cost savings will be? I’m quite open minded about that option I just have no evidence that there’s something to cut there.

    Regarding your incitement that I should volunteer: I agree. Barring financial barriers or relocation I will hopefully appear in that way for the start of fall 2010 school year (sooner if I get really lucky).

    Finally, yes – parent involvement is obviously vital. One *potentially* nice thing about the principal’s plan of having academic advisers for every student is that an adviser can reach out to and also be a contact point for parents. There’s a semi-famous fellow in Pittsburgh PA who started a school and not only rescued a lot of kids but propelled many to greatness. He got a similar program going in the projects in SF. One of his anecdotes concerns getting parents to show up for the art gallery showings of their kids works. Because of the very tight, one-on-one relationships with students he went so far as calling up parents saying “So, you’re coming right? Oh, you want to but can’t? No problem… we have a van. We’ll be there to pick you up at 7PM….” — that kind of thing. Basically dragging parents into the system feet first, if necessary. And it works. But you need to pay people to work it.

  75. The $173k/yr for 5 years that BayCES is slated to receive is from the $5 million Dept of Ed grant that they wrote and submitted without school board approval earlier this year. They receive additional consulting fees from other BUSD schools and local organizations. There is disagreement over whether the grant will actually cost BUSD $4 million or whether it is neutral. And yes, BayCES went through the $1 million Gates Foundation grant as well as additional monies to cover their $1,000/day coaching fees.

    Since that $173K/yr is already there, all the more reason to not grab money earmarked for science labs.

    The argument is not over funding struggling students more than those doing well (look at class sizes in small schools and remedial programs compared to Academic Choice/BIHS, whose kids have at least 20% larger class sizes); it is over squandering the money taken from proven and effective academic programs to fund programs that have a mixed track record at best. Oak Grove School District in San Jose identified mastery of algebra as a critical element in student success, so they developed their summer school program based on that fact. If BUSD implemented a program based on actual evidence that it worked, everyone would support it.

    As for internship programs, Bayer already has a joint effort in place at Berkeley High with the Biotech Academy, specifically for low-income students. Who knows if Bayer will continue this if science labs are cut? And LBL has a summer internship program, HSSPP, for students interested in science who have completed at least 2 years of science classes, but given that an LBL scientist wrote in defense of maintaining science labs, maybe LBL will rethink offering this program to Berkeley High kids.

  76. @Thomas, I am comparing the ethic in the Cultural Revolution that no-one should be better than average, which is what this all seems to be about. I haven’t seen you suggest cutting the BHS sports programs. While nice to have, I see little contribution to academic success from sports while conversely there is a lot of value in science to academic success. As a parent of children in the public schools, I suggest you volunteer in a public school if you want to help students who are underserved. It might also give you some firsthand insight with which to base your much espoused views.

    I can tell you without much doubt that the public school my daughter goes to has a lot of services being offered to the underserved, but it won’t go far unless their parents care to be involved every step of the way.

  77. Very early on in this discussion on Berkeleyside I asked whether or not the resistance to the plan was based on a belief that it is *in principle* wrong to redirect finite resources from programs that mainly benefit high achieving students to those who are struggling. I am beginning to get the impression that the answer is “yes, that is the source of much of the resistance”. I have to say, that makes me rather uncomfortable about the opposition to the plan.

    Alicia writes what seems to me to be two contradictory statements: “You don’t correct inequity this way. For the past year and a half I have had the opportunity to see first hand that a huge factor in the achievement gap originates with each child’s family/home situation.”

    Where I went to school the lesson was gradually learned, and is still being learned, that the best way a school can help overcome deficits in the “family/home situation” is with one on one academic advisers. This does place the school in loco parentis to a certain degree but it pays off. Many are the ultimately high achieving college graduates who struggled and rose up from a problematic home life precisely because that one on one attention was available from the school. Students at all levels of achievement tend to benefit from that kind of mentorship. My understanding that funding such advising is one of the reasons the principle is trying to reallocate funds. In other words, this *is* the way you close an achievement gap that arises from differences in home life.

    Alicia also compares the situation to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I’m sorry to be so blunt but the comparison is shockingly offensive and unjustified. The situation in BHS is one of a finite budget, allocated with a high priority of getting all students to a certain base goal level of achievement. The current disbursement of that budget is lopsided, leaving behind underclass students, African American students, and to a lesser extent Hispanic students. Nobody has offered any convincing argument that compressing lab time into the regular schedule will significantly harm high achieving students. The redirection of that budget may very well help the underachieving students. What, exactly, in this situation would Alicia compare to the totalitarian atrocities of the Chinese Cultural Revolution?

    Maureen Burke remarks “This science lab elimination is part of a long-term plan to kill academic achievement in the name of equity.”

    I must ask: Whom is being accused of having and masterminding such a nefarious plan? There is a very, very serious accusation being made there. Are we to imagine a kind of star chamber of sneaky outside agitators who are hell bent on keep rich kids, Asian kids, and White kids dumb? Will there next move be to seek ways to keep those kids from learning things outside of BHS? What is the motive for this nefarious plot? Cui bono?

    Ms. Burke makes a vague accusation that for the cost of equity consultants, BUSD could fund a summer school. Can we please see some evidence of this claim? It seems rather implausible on its surface. BayCES is not obviously good, I agree with that. Their arrangement with BUSD was initially funded by the Gate’s foundation which has since declined to renew that funding, probably because the Gate’s foundation was dissatisfied overall with the results of small school efforts. Yet, currently, if I have the news right, BayCES is only slated to get something like $173/yr from BUSD (and BayCES has had some successes). Is it not something in that ballpark? $173K won’t come close to funding an extra lab period, nevermind a summer school. It’s a very valid question whether or not the money on BayCES is well spent – but that question is abused in this context by Ms. Burke.

    Ms. Burke insults us skeptics of the opposition by saying: “Evaluation and academic achievement are dirty words in Berkeley schools, and those of us who believe in academic achievement are called privileged elitists”

    I am withholding judgment so far on whether to accuse Ms. Burke of being a privileged elitist with an unjustified sense of entitlement but I think the question does arise given the way she frames the issues here:

    Does not the question boil down, schematically, to something like this: Given $1 which may be spent towards things such as science labs vs spending that $1 on something like academic advising, which is the right choice? Of course we would all like $1 spent on each but we have but $1, not $2 – so making a painful choice is a circumstance forced upon us.

    It seems to me that BHS has a baseline achievement goal which is the highest priority: all students should achieve that baseline. The $1 is better spent on programs that bring us closer to that baseline goal.

    What increasingly galls me is this notion that BHS itself is solely responsible for the advancement of higher achieving students. If BHS were situated in a cultural and scientific wasteland, with no other opportunities around, I could understand that attitude. Yet, BHS is not so situated. Berkeley is blessed to be one of the culturally and scientifically richest places in the world. A high achieving student who wants to pass an AP test makes a very poor excuse for not working effectively towards that goal if the only excuse they offer is that the HS didn’t happen to offer quite the right courses.

    It is definitely harder – but also probably better – for serious, high achieving students to dip into and take advantage of the environment in town. And, no, I don’t think it is automatic that each can go attach themselves to UCB, LBL, or a local high tech firm – spend free time in libraries – and advance themselves that way. It’s hard and those other institutions aren’t yet set up to automatically help but that is the better direction to go.

    Meanwhile, reading comments like Alicia’s and Ms. Burke’s, I begin to understand where BayCES is coming from in their direct assault on institutionalized racism and classism in essential schools.

  78. This science lab elimination is part of a long-term plan to kill academic achievement in the name of equity (notice how people are using the phrase “the equity gap” now instead of “the achievement gap?”) Money currently spent on equity consultants at Berkeley High (and funded partially through a $5M Dept of Ed grant that was sleazily submitted prior to school board approval and calls for the principal to spend half his time “visioning”) could be used for summer school programs for middle school kids who are falling behind. A strong summer school curriculum would enable these students to take advantage of strong science classes in high school. Currently BUSD has no summer school programs that effectively help struggling students in middle school. Why isn’t the Berkeley school board directing resources to this need? It’s pitiful, especially since the Oak Grove school district in San Jose recently reported a 20% increase in math scores after their 8th grade students attended algebra classes during the summer before high school. Berkeley High kids in the small school CP Academy have attained ZERO proficiency in math on the most recent California tests, yet Berkeley High administrators characterize this information as “low-stakes” and continue to force students into the very math program (IMP) that has produced such dismal results. In fact, academic proficiency at Berkeley High has decreased alarmingly every year during the tenure of the current principal and his equity consultants. Berkeley School Board doesn’t seem to care. Yet the Dept of Ed grant proposal written by BayCES, the equity consultants, states they will increase proficiency rates by 17%. Well, I guess that’s easy to do if you start at zero. And there will be no accountability when BayCES and Berkeley High do not achieve that stated goal. It’s a very sad situation when school administrators, school district personnel, school board members and teacher union officers are playing politics instead of looking at education in a rational way. Just take a look at the BayCES business plan, which states they hope to eliminate AP classes at Berkeley High but must plan to fight community resistance–hence the ridiculous 2020 Vision Plan that our local politicians have all signed on for. (Read the minutes of their planning meetings for real eye-opener comments about the need for classes on white privilege in middle schools instead of academic excellence). So BayCES will get its way. No more AP science classes at Berkeley High, but it will be done deceptively. Just eliminate the labs and still call the classes AP, even over the protests of the science teachers. So kids will get high grades (let’s not forget the transcript changing scandal, something other school districts have fired principals for), they’ll get accepted into colleges, and they’ll fall flat on their faces. And Berkeley High administrators will claim fantastic success. Evaluation and academic achievement are dirty words in Berkeley schools, and those of us who believe in academic achievement are called privileged elitists (oh, the irony of Rick Ayers, yes brother of Bill, doing the name-calling from his ivory tower at Cal’s School of Education–guess he’ll get a job at BayCES when he finishes his PhD).

  79. Oh, and you may want to read up on the Chinese Cultural Revoloution, because it sounds eerily similar to the thought processes at play in this misguided decision:

    From Wikipedia (http://bit.ly/5sb3b2):

    “Elsewhere, the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution also brought the education system to a virtual halt. The university entrance exams were cancelled during this period, not to be restored by Deng Xiaoping until 1979. Many intellectuals were sent to rural labour camps, and many of those who survived left China shortly after the revolution ended. Many survivors and observers suggest that almost anyone with skills over that of the average person was made the target of political “struggle” in some way. According to most Western observers as well as followers of Deng Xiaoping, this led to almost an entire generation of inadequately educated individuals. However, this varies depending on the region, and the measurement of literacy did not resurface until the 1980s.[21]”

  80. As a parent of a 1st grader in BUSD, all I can say is I hope this strange “cultural revolution” style of school management at BHS changes by the time my daughter attends BHS. You don’t correct inequity this way. For the past year and a half I have had the opportunity to see first hand that a huge factor in the achievement gap originates with each child’s family/home situation. I’ve been to many school events and it is largely the same parents one sees again and again. Some parents never show up for any of the school events I’ve been to, regardless if it is on a weekend, evening or during the day.

    In my daughter’s class, the same child is absent almost every Monday I’ve been there volunteering. The same kids come to school with their take-home folders clearly not looked through–the side that says “keep at home” that has announcements, completed schoolwork and permission slips hasn’t been touched. The same kids don’t bring their folders back to school. The same kids have their reading homework sheets sent back to school blank.

    Parent involvement is a huge predictor of children’s success at school and you can already see in the 1st grade many kids who are going to have a rough time in their school careers because of the complete absence of parental involvement or care in the child’s school career. How on earth is BUSD or BHS supposed to address this factor? This is a huge, unacknowledged factor and I’m tired of people pretending it is not an issue.

    BTW, there’s a petition regarding the BHS Science proposal here: http://bit.ly/8z9Ieq .

  81. Susan, I wish to respond to a couple of things. One is where you say:

    “Also, just to refute the suggestion that there are plenty of community options for motivated students to get the same benefits they receive from the school labs – not so much. Our oldest participated in a limited (~20 students from ECHS and Kennedy High combined) program – after school hours – through the USDA in Albany. To the best of my knowledge, this is not available to students at BHS or St. Mary’s, and may not even still exist. Taking classes at Cal (we looked into this for humanities courses while at BHS) requires: [….]”

    That is *not* what I mean by “community options”. I mean kids, one at a time, each in an ad hoc way, tromping up the hill and using the libraries and, more importantly, knocking on doors and looking for opportunities and minimum wage work. There are hard but very surmountable challenges on all three sides here: students need to learn and practice gumption, BHS academic advisers need to grease wheels and push students out in that direction, UCB and LBL need to react gracefully to the influx. Sounds “impossible” yet that’s a pattern that has worked for decades at certain east coast institutions. Students don’t walk away from such experiences with credentials – they walk away able to speak for themselves in impressive ways and *perhaps* in some cases with letters from highly credentialed colleagues. They get the gold.

    One east-coast case I know of from the ’80s (not so long ago) was a high school student who had blown past his curriculum into the neighborhood of dropping out. He was “taken in” by faculty and staff researchers at a nearby university. By the 1990s, he was such a powerhouse of a software engineer that the web browser you are using today to read this message would probably be nowhere near as capable as it is without his leadership in the project to develop the first commercially successful web browser.

    The thing is, not that long ago, such stories were not all that uncommon. Yes, the higher-ed institutions can make formal programs that sanctify “graduates” of their programs with formal certificates but really that’s pomp and circumstance surrounding the real deal which is always ad hoc, messy, and unique. Kick the high-achieving kids out the door and up the hill early and often. Sympathize when they meet with cold or obnoxious rejection and kick them back up the next day. Absolute worst case – which is not so bad – most of the interesting library stacks up there are open to the public — but the high achievers can do far better than that if they start seeking more interactive opportunities. There are also less credential-centric but still valuable opportunities, such as The Crucible in Oakland.

    You wrote: “Maybe Mr. Lord could elaborate more on what options he had in mind.”

    Some of which I’ve done above. Don’t focus on grades and certificates. Focus on experience and social ability and the student’s ability to articulate their experience, social ability, and personal goals. A minimum wage job washing test tubes at Bayer is probably worth more to a high achieving student than extra lab periods if the minimum wage job includes enough slack and opportunity to interact with the real scientists there.

    It would be anathema to my point to try to give some formula like “have your kid do a then b then c” because a, b, and c are different for every kid and different from year to year. And yes, the host organizations i’m nominating (ucb, lbl, bayer, etc.) are not always (probably less than half the time) going to receive an approach gracelessly and unhelpfully. But push in that direction. It works. I’ve seen it work for quite a large number of people in multiple cities. I’ve seen evidence of it working repeatedly over decades – multiple generations. That’s how it works. Science and engineering works by apprenticeship, not curriculum – period.

    All this AP test crap and similar testing is a bunch of rubbish.

  82. I came across this issue in the Berkeley City news summary site. I have 3 children, the youngest now in college, so in some ways this issue has no direct impact on my family (though I still pay hefty Berkeley taxes). The youngest was our only BHS student as we lived in El Cerrito when our oldest started high school and the middle one went to St Mary’s HS. I have volunteered in my kids’ classes since they were in preschool, including a stint as a writing coach in a small school at BHS. Throughout the past almost 30 years, I have been a strong advocate for, and volunteer with, the students who struggle with even basic math and reading skills. Our middle child is the only one who might potentially end up in a strongly science-related career, and at the time she was in HS, St. Mary’s science program did not offer as many options as either El Cerrito or Berkeley High Schools, so perhaps this could be seen as supporting Mr. Lord’s premise that the science labs need not occur in “extra” periods (El Cerrito went to a block scheduling scheme in our oldest’s senior year, theoretically in part to allow “extra” time for lab work – students took 3 classes per semester, each for 90 minutes per day; not sure how that has continued to work out since there were understandably bumps in its implementation). However, El Cerrito also had many activities, including student gov’t and sports, that occurred during before- and after-school times.
    Our BHS student took the minimum number of science courses needed for a-g req’ts. She found, to her surprise, that she actually enjoyed them, and that she learned a lot as well (she’s more of a language arts/history person – and I could go on and on about the minimal opportunities for students who like these subjects to take anything resembling challenging courses because of concerns about widening the achievement gap, at all 3 high schools). The labs, in addition to being part of the req’t of the course for UC admission, definitely helped the information from the text “stick” for her and for her classmates. And to the best of my recollection, these were not fancy labs. (Also, just to refute the suggestion that there are plenty of community options for motivated students to get the same benefits they receive from the school labs – not so much. Our oldest participated in a limited (~20 students from ECHS and Kennedy High combined) program – after school hours – through the USDA in Albany. To the best of my knowledge, this is not available to students at BHS or St. Mary’s, and may not even still exist. Taking classes at Cal (we looked into this for humanities courses while at BHS) requires: a) finding a course that the student needs/wants to take and is qualified for; b) at a time the student can go; c) that the professor is willing to allow the student into; AND d) paying 4 units’ tuition. Our older kids did the whole LHS thing as far as it went, up through being “explainers” in the labs on weekends; again, not the same as getting hands-on science experience at school. Maybe Mr. Lord could elaborate more on what options he had in mind.)
    As someone who studied science in college (though that is not how I am currently employed), one of the major benefits I have seen from the lab class experiences of our kids and their friends, is that, whether or not they go on to study science in college, they have a better understanding of how experiments are done, what factors can influence the results, etc. All of this helps make them better-informed citizens in a world where science plays a very important role in many issues they will be asked to decide about. For students (of all colors and socio-economic backgrounds), these classes can be an introduction to something that may become a life-long passion. It would be a shame to cut back on such an important area. I hope that the school board and Mr. Slemp will consider this carefully. There are already too few options for students to get a hands-on experience in high school. The counseling and advising could take place outside of regular school hours, or during what used to be the mostly waste-of-time freshman seminar. Please don’t cut the science labs.

  83. way to go, people.
    who needs science anyway?
    NBA player earns more than PhD, right?
    And we can always import some wiz kids from China.

  84. Chris, you wrote: “It would be easy to find out if extra lab time is needed by comparing the AP scores for schools without the extra periods with those for schools with the extra period.”

    I don’t think it would be easy. What variables are you controlling for and what variables are you measuring?

  85. The argument of other classes not having extra time is beside the point. AP calculus does not have labs and humanities classes do not have labs because they don’t need them. Students can read, research and study history, languages and mathematics at home. But dissection, exothermal reactions and ballistics tests cannot (hopefully) be done at home. As for whether eliminating science labs is a good idea, I suggest interested parties look at the difficulty that academia, industry and government agencies are having with hiring qualified minorities. That’s because minority students already have less access to science education than other student groups. Why would Berkeley of all places deny minorities a rich science curriculum? And college admissions officers look very favorably on Berkeley High School in part because of their rigorous science program. It’s very sad to think that anyone would back further weakening of a formerly great science program for high schoolers from all backgrounds. And to do this in the name of equity is beyond belief.

  86. It would be easy to find out if extra lab time is needed by comparing the AP scores for schools without the extra periods with those for schools with the extra period.

  87. I’m writing an article for the Berkeley Daily Planet on the science labs controversy at BHS. In preparation, I’ve learned from everything you all have been saying.

    I’ve also interviewed a number of BHS science teachers, Superintendent Bill Huyett, others at BUSD, and a few of you who have been involved for a long time in making the high school a more effective and equitable learning environment. (Thank you for that!)

    The article should appear in this week’s issue of the Planet. I look forward to ongoing discussions here at Berkeleyside and elsewhere.

    Raymond Barglow
    http://www.berkeleytutors.net

  88. It would not surprise me to learn that California schools are putting students through science classes who are not mastering the material. Cal professors and grad student TA’s certainly believe it. All over California and across the nation many other schools also have separate science labs. But what other schools do is never the point at Berkeley High. Other school districts do not fund science labs the way Berkeley does. Our BSEP measure pays for those labs and public consensus favors funding those labs over some equity class. Please don’t argue that it’s sound education policy to replace science labs with undefined ‘equity’ classes as a way to help struggling students increase their academic skills.

  89. Maureen stated: “My comment refers to the fact that there’s no way the students can master the material if the anatomy science labs are eliminated.”
    Are you saying that all over California other schools are putting students through anatomy who do not master the material? All over California (and the nation) students complete anatomy, honors, and AP classes without extra lab periods.
    Yes, students do better when you give them more time. But please don’t argue that the extra time is NEEDED for students to succeed.
    I would agree that giving more time to AP and Honors classes will help a broader range of students to succeed in these classes. But, why limit it to science? If an AP history class can spend time during a “lab” period acting out skits historic events, the quality of their education and their success rates will increase. AP English? AP Art?

  90. I did not say separate science labs were a UC requirement. I am aware of UC a-g course requirements, unfortunately, because Berkeley High has flubbed submission of courses to UC repeatedly, to the detriment of hundreds of students.

    My comment refers to the fact that there’s no way the students can master the material if the anatomy science labs are eliminated. This holds true for my kids’ experience with advanced biology and AP chem as well as anatomy. This is their opinion, not mine. Maybe your students are smarter than my kids and they can absorb more information in less time. Mine can’t. Many kids can’t…like, say, the struggling kids that are supposedly the beneficiaries of all these schemes. I fail to see how struggling students in science classes will gain anything by the elimination of science labs.

    The BSEP measure was designed to cover items such as science labs. BUSD has much more money per student than other school districts thanks to BSEP. Those monies are earmarked precisely for items such as science labs, music and art as well as class size reduction. They are not earmarked for pet projects of the high school principal such as ‘equity classes.’ Bottom line? Elimination of science labs will further weaken the BHS science program and make it harder for the kids who need the most help academically. And what do kids get for that loss? Some nebulous ‘equity’ class with a yet-to-be-determined curriculum that will no doubt be developed by BayCES to the tune of $1,000 a day in consulting fees.

  91. I would not be able to imagine, much less understand, how Berkeley High operates unless I had experienced it over 8 years of my children being there. Right now my younger son is taking Honors Anatomy. His class meets one period each day and the labs are twice a week during zero period. It simply would not be possible to offer this class if labs are eliminated. The same holds true for all the science classes.

    Like many issues that pop up with the current BHS administration, all is not as it seems. This sudden decision to eliminate science labs smacks of retribution to the science department, since some of the teachers publicly spoke out about grade tampering and the consequences of reduced instructional minutes in various proposed redesigns. (I won’t even go into the numerous flaws in that trimester proposal–why copy something that only 4 schools in California follow and why did no one from BHS interview the southern California school that switched back to semesters after 7 years on trimesters?). Science teacher work loads would increase immensely due to the way their schedule operates, if 0/7 period science labs were eliminated, and 5 science teachers would lose their jobs.

    Eliminating science labs strikes me as a disingenuous way to achieve the goals of BayCES, the consulting group that siphons hundreds of thousands of dollars from BUSD each year. They state in their business plan that they will work to eliminate AP courses at Berkeley High, although there will be community opposition. They also state that they will do lots of community legwork to support their ‘equity’ plans. Hence the 2020 Vision Plan, which politicizes education rather than strengthens it.

    My own children will not be affected by all the proposals. But who wants to live in a place where kids don’t have basic literacy or numeracy skills, and there seems to be a rabid anti-intellectual climate in education circles? Not me. As for the argument over resource allocation, I don’t know one parent who is fighting to reduce the class size in AP courses, which is over 40 in some cases, because we’re all in agreement that struggling kids need smaller classes. So right now the average class size in the small schools is 24 and in Academic Choice it’s 32. The high school has already handed over lots of resources to kids who have greater needs, and that does seem to be a reasonable course. The rub is that it appears those resources have been thoroughly wasted, with a few exceptions. Look at the zeal with which some people embrace IMP math, even though proficiency has now hit zero in IMP math 3.

  92. Lance, I feel like I’m possibly a bit past the point of tedium and posting too much here so please forgive me and feel free to take a last word in this thread but….

    To answer your question, if you went to HS in the 70s then it sounds like I’m around 10 or so years less long in the tooth (I’m class of ’84).

    I think you’ve answered one of my questions, though. You write: “to serve the entire community, it needs to allow students the choice to take a considerable number of AP (or IB) exams, which means they can’t all be packed into the final two years.”

    I earlier asked if objections to the action plan were based on the notion that it is *in principle* wrong to redirect resources from the highest achieving students to the stragglers. I think you are saying, “Yes, that is, *in principle*, wrong.” I disagree insofar as while I think students should have a chance to prepare for all those AP exams, I don’t think the BHS budget is necessarily obligated to provide all of that opportunity. I’ll unpack that opinion below:

    It seems to me that you yourself are framing this as a rich v. poor, black v. white question even while insisting that you are not. Should not the most essential mission of BHS be to improve median performance, minimize average variation to the negative side of that median, and equip high achievers to go further using external resources? At least under conditions of budget challenge?

    School funding taxes aren’t a tuition. It’s not like a prep school in that a parent paying a lot of taxes doesn’t get to say, necessarily, “The instruction my kid got wasn’t worth that much.” In California and especially in Berkeley education funding is by design, progressive taxation to fund a public utility from whom, ideally, each citizen benefits according to need. We don’t concentrate fire-fighting resources based on relative property values – we pay-in to fire-fighting capacity based on ability and consume by property-value-insensitive need, at least ideally. I’m not sure why BHS should be different: the generally better off parents of high achieving students should, indeed, expect to be subsidizing the education of lower achieving students. The better off parents should not expect every buck of their tax dollars to go towards maximizing the resources dedicated to their kids, at the expense of lower achieving kids.

    Damn, it’s not fair of me and it’s generally very hard for me to relate. I *don’t* have a kid in BHS. It’s really easy for me to armchair but I will not hesitate to insist that my perspective is quite limited. I have what I think are some good thoughts but I would be lying if I didn’t offer you considerable deference on these issues – it’s just hard to offer my slight-remove perspective on the scene without seeming harsh. So I hope you don’t take the things I’m saying too antagonistically.

    Conversely, it’s damn hard for current student parents to participate in a balanced way in that their primary stake is short-term, but the system decisions on the table are longer term. In a sense (simplifying, but with a kernel of truth), you are advocating for what happens this year and next and maybe the year after … but also for a vague “similar situation” parents in the years subsequent. It’s hard to trust your judgment given your short-term concerns. Current BHS parents are likely to be biased towards specific current students and a bit out of whack vis a vis other current students and future students in general

    You say BHS seems to teach science well. Well, eh, what does that mean, exactly? Most of the really good scientists and engineers I’ve met over the years got precious little out of classrooms beyond the basic 3Rs and some counseling and advising by faculty who adopted them as mentors. There’s only so much that can be taught by lecture and exercise, demonstration and lab…. after that, you are either a self-learner or not. The idea of BHS concentrating on “boring”, non-advanced fundamentals, doubling down on advising towards meeting basic achievement goals, well … on paper that still sounds very good (although Roxanne has mostly convinced me the current action plan is ill-advised).

    Maybe this is a good strategy:

    1) Shoot down the action plan.
    Rationale: It is poorly thought out and no persuasive justification offered.
    2) Encourage the principal to resign.
    Rationale: divisive, ineffective.
    3) Resist (noting some data in the open letter BS recently published) any budget increases for BHS not tied to population or inflation increases.
    Rationale: money is not the main problem.
    4) Kill “small schools”.
    Rationale: factionalized faculty plus the mistake of tying socialization of students to their choice of curriculum track.
    5) Implement a stronger advising program, and clusters / houses there.
    Rationale: Yes, implement community building and one-on-one guidance – just don’t tie it to curriculum choices. Encourage diversity within the institution-defined, artificial, small communities: pick memberships randomly. Same-cluster / same-house students should have “forced association” in academic counseling contexts, not in curriculum choices.
    6) Develop outside-the-school-system educational opportunities.
    Examples: Develop more opportunities for BHS kids to find stuff to do at Cal, in local businesses, at projects like The Crucible, etc. Find (outside the school system budget) civic money for things like mentoring programs, museum and library access, trips, etc.
    Rationale: No one bureaucracy is likely to manage the problem… a competitive field of education providers works better. Also, it’s better to give students the opportunity to go as far as they can in whatever direction they like than to try to condense and present their options in the finite curriculum of a single school. Encourage BHS kids to go out and explore, and take risks. Encourage the surrounding institutions to join the community more than they do and create opportunity.
    7) Focus on testing and other forms of credentialing at BHS, accounting for students who get “outside education”:
    Rationale: Find (better) ways to measure and credit student achievements outside of BHS’s domain, for two reasons: (a) to formalize outside accomplishments in ways that make sense to college admission boards; (b) to provide incentive to HS students to go seek out outside opportunities.

  93. A few points. First, the issue is science labs for all BHS students, not just those taking AP courses. At the moment, the only science labs are in the extra periods. So changing the schedule either reduces the amount of science instruction — not just AP science instruction — or it requires all students to forgo some other course in order to take science.

    Second, I’m not sure how old you are Thomas, but I’m finding it hard to extrapolate from my high school experience in the 1970s to high school today. I took three AP exams — Calculus, Physics and Music — and I hardly encountered anyone else who took that many, even when I went to my elite, ridiculously competitive university. Today, it’s very common for high school students to take two or three times that many AP exams.

    If BHS is going to continue to serve the entire community, it needs to allow students the choice to take a considerable number of AP (or IB) exams, which means they can’t all be packed into the final two years.

    But to reiterate my first point, I think it’s a red herring to portray the debate over scheduling as rich versus poor, or black versus white, or equity versus privilege. One of the things BHS seems to do well at for all students is teach science. That’s what is endangered.

  94. One dumb thing is that I misread your earlier comment to say “final year” rather than “final years” so, indeed, the BIHS web site does *not* contradict you. My apologies. More on this below, though.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “most program choices” and still wonder how much weight you are giving to the IB degree, which seems a bit off-mission to me.

    By way of anecdote and perspective sharing: I went (as a scholarship “townie”) to a famous prep school in New England. The place was founded by T. Jefferson et al. The roster of impressive accomplishments among graduates is rather long. It produced at least two presidents and quite a large number of current big achievers. It has a long record of great AP test performance among students (in every area) and great college placements. (Of course, the college placement numbers are skewed severely by traditional lines of nepotism – e.g., legacy kids at this school are advantaged for Harvard, those from the sister school are advantaged for getting into Yale – but even discounting that and looking at the charity cases like me, the school does quite well.)

    You can’t compare apples and oranges. A private school like that has a strong selection bias. They simply don’t face nearly as many of the problems that arise in dealing with woefully under-prepared students because they don’t admit them in the first place. That school I went to has been working to lower its barriers to entry but they still have the privilege of admitting only very promising students who look like they can “catch up”.

    But when we’re talking about clearly college-tracked BHS students, it’s not so apples and oranges: those are *mostly* going to be well prepared, eager, self-starters. So the question about when labs get scheduled over four years as it pertains to those high-achievers arises, I think it’s OK to compare a bit to my prep school.

    At that prep school, the main lab courses were very much a junior and senior year thing. And, with a curious echo of the action plan, there was a heavy (though unevenly applied) emphasis on counseling and advising in all years.

    That school, like BHS, tried hard to offer various “tracks” to let students double down on their interests – you could pick an academic line to pursue. Socially, it divided students into “clusters” (close to but not the same as “small schools”). It divided clusters into “houses”, like BIHS. One difference was that same-cluster or same-house affiliations did not mean “same academic track”, at least not formally. The small-community building was orthogonal to which classes people enrolled in. In contrast to a BIHS “house”, a prep school house represented a diversity of academic tracks.

    I’m skeptical of claims that already high achieving students are seriously harmed by squeezing their labs into the last two years, perhaps giving up some other elective – especially in Berkeley where there is a wealth of outside-school opportunities. If that worked well at the snooty prep school, there’s no obvious reason it shouldn’t also work at BHS.

    If I were going to sum up my impression in the most cynical terms my account would probably include that: On the one hand there are the low achievers (largely underclass, highly correlated with race) where BHS is called upon to act in loco parentis and on the other hand there are the high achievers (largely privileged, highly correlated with race) where, to provide accelerated opportunity, BHS is called upon to act in loco parentis. The advocates of each side are currently engaged in duking it out in a fight over budget. Neither side has any obvious claim to a theory of effective and efficient high school education – they’ve only respective budget territory. Something will give/change to break the impasse but the outcome will be fairly random.

  95. I said final years. There are no electives in freshman year, assuming the student needs to take a language. I think most program choices mean there are no true electives sophomore year as well.

  96. Lance, are you sure that that’s accurate? For example, you say that in BIHS there are no electives until senior year but the BIHS web site contradicts you. It seems from what BIHS says of itself (e.g., a student could pass on IB Art, Music and Economics to free up schedule.

    I wonder if you aren’t conflating the requirements of the IB Diploma Program with “requirement(s) for most students aiming at college”?

    -t

  97. Thomas, I think there are aspects of the BHS schedule you don’t fully understand. In some of the programs, notably the International High School, there are no electives until the final years. So there are no periods to give up to take some extra lab time.

    If a student were to do that, then she or he would be giving up, for example, foreign language — another requirement for most students aiming at college.

    The 0 and 7th periods are crucial precisely because there’s no extra time knocking around in the school schedule.

  98. Roxanne: It *sounds* like you are describing an outcome wherein AP track students have to give up some electives to squeeze their lab time in during other periods, no? In any event, the fact that we don’t have the various scenarios authoritatively spelled out makes the action plan impossible to evaluate – another reason to be against it.

    But what I really wanted to respond to is where you said: “And just by the by, science is where the jobs are, and science is what will save the planet. I’m just sayin’…”

    Well….. um…. I’m not sure about that in two ways:

    I’m less convinced than you that a solid science background is going to open up lots of opportunities for desirable jobs. That’s just not what I see in manufacturing or R&D. Science-driven industry produces a lot of jobs that you can qualify for with a trade-school degree but not quite so many for people doing creative, original work in science.

    The reason why has to do with that “save the planet” stuff. I think that’s kinda BS and kinda not – in any event, people generally have the wrong idea about it:

    Really amazing and unlikely breakthroughs in alternative energy, food production, etc. could save the planet but it is a serious gamble to rely on that. For one thing, the table stakes are very, very high – it costs a lot of money to pursue a line of research in those areas and, simultaneously, while a big breakthrough pays off most R&D attempts lose money and generate nothing but incremental improvements in knowledge (sometimes mixed with some environmental degradation as a bonus).

    If you ask me, low-tech engineering plus cultural changes in lifestyle are what can “save the planet” in some broad sense. For example, I think a student who gains some experience running a computer controlled milling machine and doing some back-of-an-envelope mechanical engineering may have more to offer and be in a better position personally in years to come than one who, say, had some fun creating genetically altered bacteria. That first guy is in a good position to improvise and participate in regional manufacturing in support of regional ag and regional lifestyle change. That second guy is tracked for a highly, highly competitive world of a limited number of R&D seats – with a fallback of doing the grunt work running someone else’s highly dubious experiments. In that grunt-work outcome, within a decade, he’ll be up against trade-school grads.

    We’ll see. (“just sayin'” 🙂

    -t

  99. Thomas – too many questions here. but this one is essential:
    I wrote: “Science labs are for all BHS students, period.”
    You wrote: “Well, we’re not talking about labs in general, we’re talking about some period 0 and 7 labs, right?
    No, we are talking about ALL science labs, as labs are scheduled either 0 or 7th period.
    Scenario: You are a sophomore, you sign up for Chem, you get it 3rd (or whatever) period, plus you get assigned a lab either 0 or 7th period on one particular day. So instead of having Chem 5x week you have it 6x week. And if you have AP Chem you have an extra lab every other week, I think, something like that. And none of this is because science is better or more important, it is just harder to learn and has extra requirements from the UC system, and that system guides high school curriculum decisions all over CA.
    And just by the by, science is where the jobs are, and science is what will save the planet. I’m just sayin’…

  100. The School Governance Council (SGC) meeting on Dec. 8 at which Principal Slemp asked for support for his vague plan was a disappointing discussion of the issues. The only members of the SGC willing to question the proposal were parents and they were essentially told to trust the teachers and Slemp’s proposal.

    Rather than discussing what is currently being done to eliminate the achievement gap, and how available resources were being allocated, teachers (mostly from the small schools who are disproportionately represented on the SGC) stated that canceling science class would free up funds to close the achievement gap. However, no specifics were mentioned or referenced in Slemp’s broad policy proposal.

    The argument was repeatedly made, without explanation, that supporting challenging science classes for ALL BHS students was equivalent to supporting widening the gap. In fact, one parent member brought up specific facts that resources at BHS that were effective in assisting low-performing students were being under-utilized. Her point was ignored. But it shouldn’t be.

    Before a strong pillar of a BHS’ education is torn down (and I don’t think anyone disagrees that the BHS science department does a great job), the administration and especially the small schools should also explain the effectiveness of current programs and the current allocation of resources to the community. A lot is being done at BHS and this non-plan appears to be change for changes sake. For example, IB and AHA are graduating their first classes this year and perhaps BHS should evaluate how the small-school experiment is going before heading off on another experiment.

  101. Roxanne, thank you very much.

    You wrote: “Here is a reasonably accurate picture of the BHS achievement gap:
    http://api.cde.ca.gov/AcntRpt20009/2009APRSchAYPChart.aspx?allcds=01611430131177

    You also mentioned: “Also, the Black middle class has largely fled Berkeley High so the students of color are skewed toward the economically disadvantaged group.” That seems central to me:

    I would like to see some of those numbers broken out more. In particular, the graphs place each represented non-white racial group below the performance of “White (not of Hispanic origin)”, all such groups other than Aians below the schoolwide average, and “African American or Black (not of Hispanic origin)” as below the proficiency target. The graphs also place the category “Socioeconomically Disadvantaged” very low.

    The action plan emphasizes racial inequity, particularly effecting “black or brown” students. Therefore, I would like to know how students in the “African American or Black (not of Hispanic origin)” category perform *compared to their socioeconomic peers*. In other words, which is the more accurate predictor of a student’s chances for showing proficiency: race, or socioeconomic class?

    It’s not a neutral question because under the law and our systems of jurisprudence, certain racial categories are “suspect categories” (e.g., historically subject to oppression and thus entitled to an abundance of favorable caution when deciding when discrimination has occurred). Socioeconomic disadvantage is *not* generally regarded as a suspect category. There are legal and fund-raising advantages to BHS saying “We are doing X because X will help ‘black and brown’ kids”: less so with “We are doing X to help socioeconomically disadvantaged kids.” Yet, the latter *might* be what is really needed here – it might be a more appropriate reaction to the data.

    You also mentioned “Harlem Children’s Zone” and its emphasis on measurement. And you say: “You’d be hard pressed to find any evaluation of any small school program at BHS right now.”

    Just anecdotally, I’ve heard Bill Gates speak in recent years about changes in is thinking about how to help schools since he first started trying. One idea he seems keen on, that seems to me in equal measures clever and promising, yet creepy and fraught with peril, is based on teacher peer review and mentoring in the context of observation. Put cameras in every classroom, on the students and on the teachers, at least quite often throughout the year. Then review these, with peers, with particular emphasis on the critiques offered by teachers with a good success rate.

    The thrust of his gist, so to speak, was that there is a lot of lack of self-examination and accountability in teaching and that in his limited experience, when that problem is attack fairly directly, they returns on that investment tend to be higher than with many other approaches.

    Hey, I found one example! Here’s Gates (this is a video):

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/bill_gates_unplugged.html

    and skip to about 8:29 – 8:30. Quips such as “If you are low income, you have a higher chance of going to jail than of getting a higher degree.” By about 11:27 he starts asking about the variation in effectiveness of teachers. Another quip about a typical school: “In a teacher’s contract, it will specify a limit on how often the principle can come into the classroom [to observe] in a given year.” (Elsewhere in the video, while talking about the problem of malaria, he releases some mosquitos into the audience. Quite the showman.)

    You wrote: “The achievement gap starts very young.” Didn’t catch the particular NPR report you mention but I’ve heard plenty of quite similar things. I don’t have a lot that I can say about that without being (even more) long-winded. Briefly, that helps make it clear that the problem BHS is attacking must also be attacked in the lower grades and so forth.

    You wrote: “In Berkeley 8-10 years ago, many kids who needed resource were denied. I know because my kid was one of them. So the kids in high school now are that group. In Albany at that time, all a student needed was to be reading below grade level and they went to a reading class after school. In Berkeley you needed hours of testing and then they denied many kids. So BUSD is reaping what it sowed. That is another part of today’s situation.”

    Like Jimi Hendrix said, “I can tell you had *your* fun.” What you describe sounds to me frustrating, broken, and all too plausible.

    You wrote: “Science labs are for all BHS students, period.”

    Well, we’re not talking about labs in general, we’re talking about some period 0 and 7 labs, right? And, the football program is also for all students, period, but the question is cui bono and how and what are the opportunity costs associated with modifying the program.

    You wrote: “Many parents were opposed to the last two plans to address the achievement gap, but it is just possible that they were both terrible ideas.” You wrote that the implications made that parents of high achieving students “don’t care” about other students is a “divisive tactic.”

    I am starting to believe you.

    You wrote: “There has never been an open discussion of possible ways to address the achievement gap, just plans formulated by the principal and rubber stamped by the SGC with little or no input from parents; this happened this year and last year. Some people may argue with the plan in principle. The vast majority will see it as vague, political rhetoric with no scientific basis or data to back it up. For a fine review of this dynamic, please go to the BUSD website and read through these minutes:
    http://www.berkeley.net/board-meeting-information/

    Director Issel sounds like a pretty sharp tack.

    You write: “All BHS students need 3 lab sciences to graduate. Applications to UC’s recommend 4 lab sciences in their a-g credits. Struggling students, regular students and AP students all benefit from the extra time that labs afford.”

    I’m a bit with Issel’s principle that schedules and class size should not necessarily be center stage while teacher performance sure ought to be. I guess I would really like to see some (probably never been taken) measurements of who benefits from the extra lab periods and in what numbers and just exactly what dollars are on the table, etc. I’ve heard conflicting anecdotal accounts about the labs.

    Last thing:

    I asked: “Are the opponents of the plan arguing that canceling the labs will make it significantly less likely that BHS students become well-grounded in the underlying science? If so, why?”

    And you replied: “Because lab science requires lab time. Duh? (Maybe I misunderstood this question.)
    OK – that’s quite enough from me. Good questions.”

    Students require vitamin A, too, but that doesn’t mean a good priority would be to hand out carrots four times a day.

    Elsewhere you speculated that wealthier students will make up for lost labs by hiring more tutors. Perhaps. Sounds plausible.

    It also seems to me that motivated students of any socioeconomic class, who have done some hard work to prepare a bit, wouldn’t find it *that* hard to find outside opportunities in Berkeley or close by.

    That aside, you have shifted my opinion:

    On first reading, from the readily available information, the action plan sounded to me like a no-brainer. Now, I don’t agree with all your reasoning in what you wrote and we are still missing a lot of desirable facts BUT… you have made it sound a lot more plausible to me that a good reason to oppose canceling the labs is not because preserving the labs is vital, but because the cancellation would be in furtherance of a badly formed and poorly justified plan.

    I think I’m tending towards your side, though I reserve the right to change my mind. Enough from me, too. Good answers.

  102. Thomas,

    You ask many questions. Here are a few answers.

    Here is a reasonably accurate picture of the BHS achievement gap:
    http://api.cde.ca.gov/AcntRpt2009/2009APRSchAYPChart.aspx?allcds=01611430131177

    Many would contend that it is so large at least in part due to the Town and Gown aspect; Berkeley has a lot of genius kids. Many of them often help their peers in class. Also, the Black middle class has largely fled Berkeley High so the students of color are skewed toward the economically disadvantaged group. Why do Latino kids do better? Maybe that middle class has not fled? Who knows. The way the district defines the gap (via the 2020 Vision plan), bringing the top down doesn’t count so “closing the gap” is a misnomer; BHS’s charge is to bring the bottom up. Closing the gap involves students currently at the bottom of the gap achieving proficiency in math and language (ELA or English Language Arts).

    Nonetheless, the achievement gap is very disturbing, and it is true all over the country. Berkeley happens to be a city with very high highs and very low lows, all in one school of way over 3000 kids with overcrowded classrooms in the large programs. We also have teachers who vehemently disagree with each other about pedagogies for how to teach those students. That is the basic disagreement between large school and small school philosophies. Right now, the small schools seem to have a basic resistance to evaluation which many find disturbing. Other schools that use evaluation extensively are experimental programs like Harlem Children’s Zone featured on 60 Minutes last week:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/12/04/60minutes/main5889558.shtml?tag=currentVideoInfo;segmentUtilities
    Harlem Children’s Zone is very successful. They evaluate everything and change programs that are not working. You’d be hard pressed to find any evaluation of any small school program at BHS right now.

    The achievement gap starts very young. Today on npr there was a story about this. “There was a study that found that children from an educated or college-educated middle-class family will have heard 30 million words or utterances by the time they were three years old, which was 20 million more than the children from poor families, so this gap is what everybody in education is saying how do we overcome this, because if we could get children going to school prepared, then they’re more likely to do better later on.”
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121374125

    In Berkeley 8-10 years ago, many kids who needed resource were denied. I know because my kid was one of them. So the kids in high school now are that group. In Albany at that time, all a student needed was to be reading below grade level and they went to a reading class after school. In Berkeley you needed hours of testing and then they denied many kids. So BUSD is reaping what it sowed. That is another part of today’s situation.

    Regarding your phrase “… the science labs, a program said to be mainly of benefit to high achieving students.”
    Science labs are for all BHS students, period.

    “Are the objections to this plan based on a belief that it is wrong *in principle* to redirect spending that benefits high-achievers to programs aimed at helping low-achieving students?”
    I don’t think so. Many BHS parents seem genuinely distressed by the achievement gap. The charge is sometimes made that parents of high-achieving students don’t care about low-achieving students but that seems more like a divisive tactic than anything else. Many parents were opposed to the last two plans to address the achievement gap, but it is just possible that they were both terrible ideas.

    There has never been an open discussion of possible ways to address the achievement gap, just plans formulated by the principal and rubber stamped by the SGC with little or no input from parents; this happened this year and last year. Some people may argue with the plan in principle. The vast majority will see it as vague, political rhetoric with no scientific basis or data to back it up. For a fine review of this dynamic, please go to the BUSD website and read through these minutes:
    http://www.berkeley.net/board-meeting-information/
    Click on the Minutes (3rd column) February 11, 2009.

    “What alternative proposals, if any, have been made for finding that much money (rather than canceling the labs)?”

    None. No one was allowed to discuss other funding ideas or other ideas at all.

    “Is there a “typical” student, or range of typical situations that characterizes the students who benefit from the science labs?”

    All BHS students need 3 lab sciences to graduate. Applications to UC’s recommend 4 lab sciences in their a-g credits. Struggling students, regular students and AP students all benefit from the extra time that labs afford.

    “For each of those typical situations, how, in detail, is the students experience of BHS and eventual level of achievement likely to change?”

    AP classes will no longer be available on a first time basis. Struggling students will have to learn the same amount of material in less time. The school’s rating will go down and struggling students will probably have a lower pass rate. Wealthier students will probably hire more tutors to make up for the difference in class time. Less wealthy students will not be able to afford that so they will just fail more.

    If you have questions about the principal’s plan you’ll have to try to get an answer from him. Good luck with that.

    “Are the opponents of the plan arguing that canceling the labs will make it significantly less likely that BHS students become well-grounded in the underlying science? If so, why?”

    Because lab science requires lab time. Duh? (Maybe I misunderstood this question.)
    OK – that’s quite enough from me. Good questions.

  103. Also, is Berkeley particular heartless in light of the statement used to justify the drastic changes…

    “Berkeley High was identified as the high school with the largest racial equity/achievement gap in the state. This is unconscionable.”

    I’ve read this from BHS Principal Slemp and now in a public letter from religious congregations published in the Daily Planet in support of the 2020 Vision plan

    BHS is the sole high school in a city with it’s own racial equity/achievement gap. I would bet that most towns this size have multiple high schools, and most high schools likely serve more homogeneous racial and economic areas. With us the advantages and disadvantages of diversity come all in one package.

    It’s no more “unconscionable” than the sharp differences between inner city high schools and wealthier suburban ones; it’s just that the gap at BHS is within one high school’s boundaries. It’s unconscionable that there are gaps between high schools throughout the state and country. In this sense Berkeley High stands out as a microcosm of society with all its advantages and disadvantages. This doesn’t mean that we don’t work on the gap, just that statements like that above shouldn’t make us feel guiltier than the rest of society, at least that’s how I see it.

  104. The current push seems to be for smaller and more communities of students, “small schools”. However, from the statistics I saw a year or two ago at a BUSD board meeting the performance of students in the current small schools over the previous 5+ years has not improved much, if at all.

    The Gates Foundation has stopped funding the ‘small school’ movement because of lack of results. Instead they have switched to researching teacher quality issues. Are we barking up the wrong tree here?

  105. I am trying to understand the issues here well enough to form an opinion about the disputes, but the reporting of the issues (that I’ve seen) isn’t making that possible. Perhaps others are in the same boat.

    I understand that it is accepted as true that BHS has an achievement gap that is especially strong along racial lines. How is this measured and what are the numbers?

    To try to close the achievement gap, the action plan proposes a number of measures to redirect resources to better serve students currently likely to be under-achievers. One example is the end of the science labs, a program said to be mainly of benefit to high achieving students. Are the objections to this plan based on a belief that it is wrong *in principle* to redirect spending that benefits high-achievers to programs aimed at helping low-achieving students?

    How much money is on the table in the question of the science labs?

    What alternative proposals, if any, have been made for finding that much money (rather than canceling the labs)?

    Is there a “typical” student, or range of typical situations that characterizes the students who benefit from the science labs? For each of those typical situations, how, in detail, is the students experience of BHS and eventual level of achievement likely to change?

    A charge is made that the spending plans for the redirected money are “vague” and that they are contrary to the mandate of the BSEP taxation. The Principle’s action plan does not seem remarkably vague to me, so, what specific charges are being made about how the money will be mis-spent? The BSEP legislation does not look to me to contain anything contradictory to the proposed use of funds, on what basis is the charge of contradicting the BSEP mandate made?

    The action plan offers specific goals. One example that lept out at me is the goal of ensuring that every student receives individualized advisement during their high school career. Intuitively, that sounds like a fine idea but intuition is not obviously a trustworthy guide here. What evidence-based rationale exists for the Principle’s action plan? That is, why should it we believe it is an effective and efficient way to close the achievement gap?

    The petition letter which parents are asked to sign offers this rationale for protecting the science labs: “The issues facing our students (global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, urban pollution, health issues such as diabetes, cancer, etc.) require that our students be well-grounded in the underlying science behind these issues.” That seems a peculiar list. Surely there are many other scientific issues of grave importance to the students. Surely there are also many non-scientific concerns of grave concern – not least of which are our nation’s problems with growing divides between economic classes, and racial inequities along those divides. The list of issues “(global warming, …)” smacks of pandering and fear mongering. Are the opponents of the plan arguing that canceling the labs will make it significantly less likely that BHS students become well-grounded in the underlying science? If so, why?

    Finally, apparently a very large segment of the BHS student population currently is quite unlikely to become well-grounded in that science because they are, in general, under-achieving. Is that not the case? If that is the case, then isn’t there something of a trade-off to be made here to raise those under-achieving students, even if it means slightly slowing down the high-achieving students?