The controversy continues over Berkeley High School principal Jim Slemp’s proposal to eliminate before- and after-school time for science labs in order to direct funding towards “equity grants” aimed at reducing the achievement gap in the school.

See Berkeleyside’s original post on this issue here and an open letter on the subject from Priscilla Myrick, a former BHS Governance Council parent representative, here.

A group of BHS parents has set up a “Science and Equity” group which is questioning the need to choose between the two.

They have drafted a letter to the community articulating their point-of-view and suggesting steps those who support them can take. We reproduce it here:

BERKELEY HIGH PARENTS FOR SCIENCE and EQUITY

ScienceAndEquity@gmail.com

Dec. 15, 2009

Subject:  BHS science program under attack

Dear Berkeley Community,

Can you believe it – they are reducing science education at Berkeley High School when everyone else, led by President Obama, is going in the other direction?  That’s what the SGC decided last week when they approved the principal’s new plan, written in secrecy and voted in at the same hour it was reviewed.

The plan hid the fact that BHS would get rid of 0 & 7th period science labs for all students e.g. ALL labs at Berkeley High. This money would be allocated to a new made-up term an “equity grant,” a concept invented by the principal. The SGC was asked to choose between science (real classes for real kids) and “equity”  (an undefined idea that will cost half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money.) Well documented research and common sense shows that what struggling students need most are strong experienced teachers teaching solid curriculum. This is not a time to experiment with unsubstantiated untested ideas. There are strong support programs at Berkeley High right now; we should be expanding those instead.

The funds from Berkeley’s BSEP Measure A, your special parcel tax dollars, are currently the only funding given to science labs at Berkeley High. All students take science. Less science instruction will only hurt the kids already struggling with the achievement gap, contrary to what we are all trying to achieve here. The achievement gap cannot shrink with less science instruction. That’s crazy.

If 0 & 7th period labs are taken away, instructional time for regular science courses will decline by 21%.Labs during the school day will be squeezed into overcrowded science rooms where students will lack the time to learn the material sufficiently.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Use your voice.

Please speak up to the School Board and to the Superintendent. Insist that BUSD examine current programs and compel the school to focus its spending more effectively. If belt-tightening is going to happen, let it happen equitably.

Please show up at the school board meeting Wed. Dec. 16 by 7:30pm. Fill in a yellow postcard saying you wish to speak. If you don’t want to speak, you can yield your time to a science teacher. They have plenty to say. We will need you again in January when the principal presents his plan, date TBA.

Write:

Supt. William Huyett and BUSD Directors,

2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704-1180
Email
:

<boardofed@berkeley.k12.ca.us> and  <william_huyett@berkeley.k12.ca.us>

And please copy us if you like: <ScienceAndEquity@gmail.com>

~Please forward this email to other Berkeley High parents~

*        *          *            *           *

Background:

  • Double period science was eliminated in 2002-03.
  • This was mitigated by BSEP, your parcel tax dollars, which funded labs 1-2 times per week.
  • Achievement still declined.  (e.g. Chemistry: 48 % proficient in 2003; 37% proficient in 2009.)

Under Principal Slemp’s new plan:

  • Funding for the 0 and 7 period science labs shifts to “Equity Grants,” as-yet unspecified projects designed to reduce the achievement gap.
  • Science Labs would be moved into the regular school-day classes,
  • Instructional time for regular science courses is reduced by another 21%,
  • Instructional time for AP science courses (now at two labs/week) is reduced by 30%,
  • Science classes are thrown into chaos in overcrowded lab spaces,
  • 5 science teachers are laid off (because your students will have less time in class.)
  • All leading to further decline in achievement for all students?

What you can do to keep science education great at BHS:

  • Please urge the School Board and the Superintendent to reverse direction;
  • Support teachers who want to increase students of color taking AP courses;  Support teachers who want all students to push themselves to their potential!
  • Encourage equitable use of FTEs (full time equivalents, the budgetary term to describe one teaching job) in every Small Learning Community. We could free up almost 4 FTE’s for closing the achievement gap just by equalizing the lead teacher load between them.
  • Demand parity for parents in BHS governance where the parent voice is almost nil.
  • Demand serious evaluation of all SLC’s current programs to raise the performance of struggling students. Berkeley has invested tremendous resources, trying to ensure that every student is challenged and supported to achieve his or her academic potential. Without evaluating current efforts, we are willfully blinding ourselves to the ways we could be more effective.
  • Insist that evaluation of current equity programs precede erosion of current academic programs.How is BHS doing now as it tries to address achievement gap issues?
  • Insist that any new equity programs be scientifically based and data-driven (as requited by law.)

We want

Science and Equity

at Berkeley High School

Why should we have to choose?

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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6 Comments

  1. Honestly, I think this is a bit of an overreaction. As I understand it, Small Learning Communities will be allowed to decide how to allocate their additional FTE and may choose to maintain labs for some science classes.

    As a current BHS senior who has taken a number of science classes at Berkeley High, I can tell you that labs are not currently being utilized to the degree people imagine. I strongly believe that a class such as AP Physics requires the lab time to get through all the course material, as may AP Bio and AP Chem, but regular level science classes certainly do not need that extra hour a week. Kids rarely come to regular level labs, and any work done during that time could easily be done during regular classes. Moving labs to during the school day would probably ensure that more people showed up. Even in my AP Chem class, most labs were used to catch up on homework for other classes and watch our teacher make oatmeal over the bunsen burner, but we more than easily managed to cover all the course material.

    Of course, in an ideal world science labs would not be threatened, but the fact of the matter is that Berkeley High has committed itself to closing the equity gap, and to even attempt to do so requires taking funding from some other area of the budget.

  2. One common thread through many of these comments is Berkeley’s need to be deliberative and systematic about proposed changes if we want to address the achievement gap. The “2020 Vision” is one attempt to do so. The Draft “Vision” can be viewed at the Berkeley Alliance website and is open for public comment. Is this vision the best we can do? Is this a problem that can ever be fixed? I have no idea, and I’m not advocating for the adoption of this “Vision”. But it’s worth perusing the document to learn about the achievement gap and to weigh the value of more specific proposals like the proposed changes to science education at BHS.
    http://www.berkeleyalliance.org/