In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Times ran a feature story yesterday on the ongoing science lab debate at Berkeley High School.

It kicks off with this context information:

In the last school year, 82% of Berkeley’s AP chemistry students passed the rigorous exam, which gives college credit for high school work. The national passing rate is 55.2%. The school’s AP biology and physics students are even more successful.

Most districts would not argue with such a record, but Berkeley High’s science labs are embroiled in a debate over scarce resources with overtones of race, class and politics.

Read the full article, by Maria L. La Ganga, here.

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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17 Comments

  1. Greetings TL

    Thanks for the insights on the engineering front; I quit the formal job years ago in favor of law but have fond memories of the debates with my colleagues. When I worked at IBM I saw some of the weirdness you describe, whcih may explain why I got out. Nowadays I’m still involved deeply in EE/e-commerce/software but only on a peripheral level – I don’t code any more, I try to help people get protection for their ideas.

    You should try to consider giving a lecture or two over at the high school on the challenges and ethics of science/engineering. It sounds like you are well in tune and versed in the hot topics of the day, and a brain you inspire may save the day for us sometime.

    regards!

  2. JNG I am bursting with replies to each of your points but it sounds like you want to wrap up and so most of those last words are yours. My earlier comments address many of those points anyway, so I am comfortable with that.

    It’s a little off topic but I think reasonable to address the bit about engineering – the stuff I mentioned that you found “disturbing”. It’s not quite as crazy as it might sound:

    Ever since way, way back highly trained scientists and engineers have had a cultural tradition of learning to be cagey. It’s pretty obvious why. Often enough you encounter someone who is asking, directly or indirectly, “how does X work?” or “how do I make a Y?”

    Now, if they’re asking how to make a toy rocket out of a cigar tube, vinegar, and baking soda – by gosh, bore them for hours on end showing off your intricate knowledge of every aspect of the subject! At the opposite extreme, if you have some clue about making, say, chemical weapons — not only should you not give an answer, but you should deceive the heck out of the person, report him to trusted friends in a position to help, etc.

    In old slang, the opposite of a properly cagey scientist or engineer is one who is always just eager to show of knowledge for the slightest reward, regardless of social consequences — the slang term being “a tool.”

    What do we do with tools? Traditionally, we stop teaching them; we tease them; heck, maybe we make them fall flat on their faces. There is a very long history of (sometimes rudely) discouraging people from being tools.

    A few things changed, over the years. Well, for one thing, there was the whole Bomb thing out of WWII. There are the (hopefully permanently) open questions about whether and if so to what degree the top Nazi-side scientists subtly sabotaged their own program from the inside. There’s Oppenheimer’s dramatic reading of his “I have become Shiva,” bit. Those set a tone.

    There was, around Viet Nam, some big questions about working for the Military Industrial Complex, morally speaking. There was certainly not then (nor now) any cultural consensus but… it was clear that decisions were becoming harder.

    Shortly after Viet Nam, there were the revelations that came out from (sigh, it’s hard to say this without sound like a conspiracy theorist) — from the well documented immoral conspiracies of MK-ULTRA and COINTELPRO.

    Then there’s a lot of whispered stuff. For example, just how deep the intel community got (and apparently remains) in bed with the telecomm industry for purposes of mass surveillance. Or, more recently, the emergence over the past few decades of terrorism networks.

    And there’s a lot of more openly discussed stuff about (a) the vulnerability of life critical infastructure, world-wide, to low-cost attacks (earlier generations of engineers didn’t anticipate systemic attacks and didn’t defend against it in their designs); (b) the overall low cost using highest-level engineering training to wreak non-specifically-directed but nihilistic and deadly havoc.

    My field (software engineering) is one of several that are especially potent for purposeful or inadvertent disaster causing. As one mentor quipped, a couple of decades ago: “We’re computing professionals. We cause accidents.”

    And so, yes, without giving away too many secrets an informal and anarchic culture has developed wherein, yes, sometimes there are credible threats that are mainly aimed both to scare the s–t out of students and to make sure they viscerally feel and understand the thin ice they are venturing out onto. And while the default moral standard is to help students learn, when there’s enough group consensus that some student is bad news waiting to happen the group attitude among the sharpest and most worried one’s changes. Ideally such a student lands in a nice average position where they can’t do any big harm. But there’s no a priori upper bound on how far stopping some “tool” might go, if/when push comes to shove.

    It doesn’t work perfectly, by far. It does look to me to make a positive difference. It’s mostly harmless.

    You write: “There will be always engineers who thrive on making smarter bombs for smarter people.”

    Which might describe the Manhattan project or the Nazi bomb project. And between those two projects, there were scientists and engineers who had a personal choice to make about which one to support. When you find a student that “everyone” (with a clue, scientist or engineer or otherwise) can kind of tell that they’ll approach such a choice in a stupid way – intervene early and often, until satisfied, but never ever acting without the support of a diverse group of peers and never ever without being fully prepared to accept the full legal and social consequences to yourself of your intervention.

    The world is that complicated these days. Engineering ain’t just about the big paychecks and superior knowledge of basic science. We’re science and engineering professionals. We cause huge accidents. Enough said.

  3. TL,

    Just a few comments and I will yield the floor to someone else who may want to chime in.

    1) I have as much sympathy as the next person for kids who show up unprepared for high school; but I am not in favor of a solution that tears down strong students to make them weaker in the hopes of making weaker students stronger.

    2) I also fundamentally disagree that it is our burden to apologize or correct every defect in kids’ education when, as a practical matter, we all know that successful learning comes from a triangle of participation: student-parent-school. You can take a child to the classroom, but you can’t make him/her think. To suggest that BHS should spend $$ “fixing” this problem is simply throwing good money after bad. Here we are, weeks later, and we still have nothing to suggest any of these so-called “equity” programs actually achieve any equity at all.

    3) As a lawyer for 20+ years I know a fair thing or two about what will past muster as so-called discrimination, and will not. Kids who want to attend certain offered classes at their own convenient hours, unfortunately, are not a protected class. You are entitled to a reasonable education, not a perfect one.

    4) Nothing in my note suggested to you tell these kids to throw in the towel. To the contrary I’m suggesting that you tell them that the world is not going to re-orient itself to their schedule, unless they become President of course. But there are no shortcuts getting there.

    5) Like you I also practiced as engineer for a long time as well; all I am suggesting is that if we are going to willingly include distorted samplings in our results (from out of district participants) than at a minimum let’s examine that and see if it is really a BERKELEY high school failing. Again no one seems willing to look at the problem objectively – its always this person’s hunch or feeling.

    BTW the rest of our post about engineers in your field is disturbing, but I can’t quite figure out what to tell you in consolation. All I know is when I was a young EE the dilemma was whether to work in the defense industry or not – we felt more comfortable working for IBM instead of TRW, but in the end there is no much moral high ground. There will be always engineers who thrive on making smarter bombs for smarter people.

    good luck to you

    JNG

  4. You write: “The answer is to afford equal “opportunity” to all color/$$ groups – downstream efforts to rig the system in favor of one group or another to obtain a desired result are naive, doomed to fail and only create divisions in the groups you are trying to unify.”

    A serious moral and philosophical problem for us all is how best to define and measure “opportunity”.

    We aren’t discussing some abstract ideal about education — we’re talking about an actual bunch of students and the particular school. And the simple fact is that the students here vary wildly in terms of their preparation and what kind of push/support they get at home. You can start fixing kindergarten on up today and you’ll still have a decade of actual students to deal with. So, if we have programs that demonstrably, measurably, hugely benefit one subgroup (mostly white or asian, also skewed towards rich) and simultaneously fail spectacularly to do well by black, hispanic, and poor kids (on average) — what do we do? What do we tell those kids? Are we supposed to say “Sorry, your background sucks. There’s not much we can do for you. You had the same opportunities as those high achievers, according to our theories.”?

    If nothing else, bear in mind that if your answer is “yeah, that’s what we should be saying” then you have a pretty decent looking chance of bringing BHS to court for violation of the state education code’s anti-discrimination provisions. I think that if the dissenters prevail in this current dispute, that is very likely where we are headed — millions in court costs and a further ceding of local control over BHS.

    You write: “From what I read what I do know is that there is a ideological contingent that thinks it has identified a problem they want to solve, using a solution that they can’t explain or justify.”

    That is the position taken by some members of the community, including here on this blog. You get a pretty different picture when you start digging into some of the research materials about inequity behind this and various other initiatives, and you get a pretty different picture from the front-line folks and the citizenry in outreach meetings. They explain and justify themselves pretty darn well.

    You mention a bunch of “we don’t know”s concluding: “we don’t know anything about the performance of the programs that are taking the science class $$ and if they really achieve anything,”

    That’s true. We know some good things and some bad things about the performance of the extra lab periods. We *don’t* know or have any compelling reason to believe the budget redirection can or will significantly harm high achieving students. There’s a whole lot of “don’t know” to go around, limited opportunity to make better than educated guesses, and certain knowledge that the current arrangement both lavishes high achieving students with resources and fails to serve other students especially along racial and economic class lines. Nobody said these questions were easy or had certain, clear-cut answers. Or, at least, anyone who does say that is making stuff up.

    You write “Its not a matter of relying on “formal” proof, its a matter of having no proof whatsoever” apparently based on “I’ve seen and read the statements from the board members and people on both sides of the issue.”

    To the extent which you actually mean “having no *evidence* whatsoever”, your statement is simply slanderous. To the extent you mean “*proof*”, your statement is unreasonable in its expectations.

    Finally, you write: “As a technically trained person you know it makes a huge difference and distorts the real truth, particularly when the bulk of the out-of-district kids are the ones that are the subject of the so-called achievement gap.”

    There are at least a few responses worth making:

    1) It’s not just academic metrics but other factors that support the hypothesis. There is absolutely no dispute that, for example, S. West Berkeley has the lowest average education level among parents, the worst public health, the highest death rate and so forth. Other lower-income parts of Berkeley have similar problems to a significant but lesser degree. It’s undisputed that the achievement gap disproportionately effects students from these areas. What do you want to say to my neighbors? Because it sounds like you want to say “Tough breaks, kid. Too bad for you. But, you know, some of the other kids are doing real well racking up AP credits and it just doesn’t make sense to redirect any resources to trying harder to make sure you get a decent high school education.”

    2) Yeah, I’m a technically trained person. I vainly consider myself to be an engineer. One of the main differences between an engineer and a theoretical scientist is that as engineers we recognize that we have no choice, ever, on any sufficiently hard problem, but instead we have to operate with imperfect, uncertain knowledge. We also, as engineers, wrangle with our social responsibility and hopefully expansive perspective. One of the things that distinguishes better from worse engineers is not scientific knowledge or certainty, but the art of the “best guess” and the art of “responsible recommendations regardless of narrow personal interests”. As engineers, we are a kind of anarchic fifth column. We “make things go”. We also sometimes, by collective, anarchic action, “make things stop”. This is our job. This is what the best of us think about. We are not, the true engineers, simply “technically trained”. In my own field, there is even a bit of a crisis these days because there is an unprecedented number of “technically trained” people who are not engineers. Basically, in my line of work, and as far as I’m concerned, you are not truly an engineer until some senior engineer of high regard has made a veiled but credible threat to arrange for you to be killed if you continue pursuing a certain line of effort (supported by a consensus of his peers). At some parts in and about MIT and CMU – it’s almost ritual, exposing this little discussed truth. (Middling students who seem harmless and easy to dominate in the field generally don’t go through that, for obvious reasons.)

    Now, in regard to the statistical distortion of out-of-district registrants at BHS:

    On the one hand, I’m pretty sure I could teach you a thing or two about statistics and, perhaps likewise I’m sure. That is neither here nor there. What is here:

    A candidate for office ran a remarkably unsuccessful run for office making remarkably unsubtantiated claims about the allegedly huge percentage of out-of-district cheaters and their distribution along various demographic lines.

    Simultaneously, there are substantial legal doubts that “cheating” at BHS registration is quite as clear cut as some people think.

    Simultaneously, there is a very strong moral argument for simply accepting a certain amount of so called “cheating” (what, you never drive over the speed limit?) in this situation and, given that, BHS has a moral responsibility even to the “cheaters”.

    What you seem to endorse here is the notion that, aside from rejecting preposterous registrations, BHS should spend precious resources engaging in “bed checks” for rich and poor alike. Fair enough. Triple their budget and I’m sure that becomes a plausible option, although taking that action will probably do the opposite of increasing good will with neighboring cities.

  5. You write:

    “I’m not sure why you make such a big deal about out of district transfer issues. Those aren’t the main issues. The in-district stats are skewed in ways that have been thoroughly described.”

    As a technically trained person you know it makes a huge difference and distorts the real truth, particularly when the bulk of the out-of-district kids are the ones that are the subject of the so-called achievement gap.

    “In an ideal world, perhaps. There are another 20 uncertain questions on the table, too – so, scientific surveys for all of those as well? ….Meanwhile, we need to make decisions based on what we’ve got that’s less formal.

    This somewhat flippant comment makes me think you are not in favor of actually documenting and identifying the actual problem, but instead are too content to rely on generalities and vague references to race or economics as the underlying problem so long as there is a connectable path between the complainant and the label you want to attach. Its not a matter of relying on “formal” proof, its a matter of having no proof whatsoever.

    You write:

    “Your mileage may vary but I’d suggest you can’t form a good opinion just by theorizing about what should be the case – you need to go and observe more carefully and directly than it sounds like you have.”

    I’ve seen and read the statements from the board members and people on both sides of the issue. Suffice it to say if the proponents of the reduction/reallocation can’t communicate effectively the data, rationale and game plan to the city taxpayers, I don’t think its incumbent on me to conduct my own survey on the street to figure out what they are trying to do.

    At the end of this exercise there doesn’t seem to be any dispute that:

    a) we don’t know who actually is complaining and why;
    b) we don’t know if these complaints merit eliminating the 0/7 period classes;
    c) we don’t know if it makes sense to be addressing an “achievement” gap when the root causes go far beyond anything that a high school can redress, particularly when the gap is already there and irreducible before they even attend BHS;
    d) we don’t know if the problem is with Berkeley kids, or out-of-district kids;
    e) we don’t know anything about the performance of the programs that are taking the science class $$ and if they really achieve anything,

    and so on

    From what I read what I do know is that there is a ideological contingent that thinks it has identified a problem they want to solve, using a solution that they can’t explain or justify. I’m also fairly certain that attempts to create a color/$$ blind society are doomed to fail when the people in charge rely heavily on color/$$ biased factors to bring about their desired result.

    The answer is to afford equal “opportunity” to all color/$$ groups – downstream efforts to rig the system in favor of one group or another to obtain a desired result are naive, doomed to fail and only create divisions in the groups you are trying to unify.

    regards,

    JNG

  6. JNG,

    You write: “First of all, I don’t know if there has ever been any fair and accurate accounting of the number of complaints to know the distribution.”

    I won’t directly agree or disagree with that because I’m not sure what you would think of as a “fair and accurate accounting.” I do think that at some point it is reasonable to look in the eyes of and critically evaluate what is said by those closest to the front line – the people doing community outreach and so forth. I don’t think that any bureaucratic procedure can fully objectify questions like this – judgment is needed. I fully agree that the question is not as simple as black and white (no pun intended, most emphatically).

    You write “Second no one has posed any rational reason why “family situation” and “economic necessity” result in a skewed complaint pool; all that we know from public comments – directly from the kids who do bother to take the classes in these 0 periods BTW – is that some kids simply don’t want to bother to get up early to take the labs.”

    As far as I can tell, it just ain’t that simple.

    I can easily understand why family situation and economic necessity result in skewed complaints because when I was in high school my household was around the poverty level and I went to a high school that scheduled stuff over a very long day. My single parent had to work long hours and if I had had younger siblings that most definitely would have limited my options. As it was in fact I did have to work some evenings and quite late and while my boss at that most excellent dishwasher / prep-cook job bent over backwards to accommodate and support me every which way he could, it did make it impossible for me to participate in some of the outside-customary-hours academic opportunities.

    Moreover, I happen to live in the census block of SW Berkeley that is the biggest negative outlier in BHS stats and Berkeley public health stats. Speaking in terms of averages: We have the least educated parents. The highest death rate. The worst health. The worst BHS performance. On and on. A vastly disproportionate number of the underachieving kids we’re talking about live in my ‘hood. They are my neighbors. I have some sense of what their lives are about because it is so intimately a part of what my life is like.

    Work is needed from both sides. There are a lot of great kids around here who aren’t getting the push and support they need and deserve both from their home community AND from BHS. I think it’s exciting that BHS is working on stepping up, and unfortunate that a finite budget is resulting in this political fight. I wish we could all agree on the proposed redirection of BHS budget and concentrate instead on creating alternative opportunities for high achieving students (as a community). Berkeley is so intellectually rich that I think it would not be very hard for us to come together and improve the situation of high achieving students even while BHS budget gets some redirection. Meanwhile, in the ‘hood: there’s a crisis.

    I’m not sure why you make such a big deal about out of district transfer issues. Those aren’t the main issues. The in-district stats are skewed in ways that have been thoroughly described.

    Finally, you write: “If we want to some real science, let’s do a real survey of the people complaining and ask them to document their specific reasons for not being able to attend – divorced of color/$$ considerations – instead of relying on suppositions about “race,” “economic class,” etc. – and then see if they merit a change.”

    In an ideal world, perhaps. There are another 20 uncertain questions on the table, too – so, scientific surveys for all of those as well? If we double the BHS budget we can probably afford all of that. Meanwhile, we need to make decisions based on what we’ve got that’s less formal.

    I’m impressed, so far, by the community outreach I’ve seen and my (yes, subjective) sense is that there is some truth in the reports back. Your mileage may vary but I’d suggest you can’t form a good opinion just by theorizing about what should be the case – you need to go and observe more carefully and directly than it sounds like you have.

    There’s a larger question of whether it is meaningful – or what it exactly would mean – to imply a particular notion of “scientific” to the management of BHS. Sociological and educational science aren’t that far advanced to make management a no-brainer kind problem. It’s worrisome to hear the discourse take a turn of requiring perfect science when none is to be had, even if we had infinite budget. It’s a bit of a cliche, I guess, but I would like to recommend the author Michel Foucault not as a philosopher who offers any direct answer to the right course of action at BHS, but as a philosopher good at explaining how and why we have such difficulty discussing it.

    Foucault or not: we have no choice but to make a collective guess as to the best course of action here. Science isn’t about to come galloping in on a white horse to rescue us from that fate.

  7. TL:

    You say

    “I have also heard it said that the particular schedules of the extra periods tends (as evidenced by complaints) to systemically discriminate against some students based on family situation and economic necessity. The burden of this discrimination is observed to fall strongly along economic class and racial lines”

    First of all, I don’t know if there has ever been any fair and accurate accounting of the number of complaints to know the distribution.

    Second no one has posed any rational reason why “family situation” and “economic necessity” result in a skewed complaint pool; all that we know from public comments – directly from the kids who do bother to take the classes in these 0 periods BTW – is that some kids simply don’t want to bother to get up early to take the labs. Perhaps the basic math is that there will always be a % of people that simply don’t like to attend outside of the period 1-6 curriculum, and of course they will complain.

    Furthermore I’ve never seen any breakdown or suggestion that one’s ability to get to school on time or attend for longer periods at BHS is a factor of race or economic situation. About the only thing one can account for is distance to the school affecting commutes, and in that respect I can’t say I have much sympathy for folks who want to trek their kid in 10 miles from out of district and then complain that we don’t accommodate their schedule better. I don’t find any solid stats on this from the school, but the comments on this site are enlightening:

    http://parents.berkeley.edu/recommend/schools/BHS/outofdistrict.html#lg

    If we want to some real science, let’s do a real survey of the people complaining and ask them to document their specific reasons for not being able to attend – divorced of color/$$ considerations – instead of relying on suppositions about “race,” “economic class,” etc. – and then see if they merit a change.

    cordially

    JNG

  8. Ms. Burke, you keep accusing “the other side” of intellectual dishonesty. I’m not sure you are playing fair.

    What I have heard said about the extra periods is not that they violate any regulation about the number of hours, but that they exceed both the (quite small) mandatory requirements and (more importantly) the number of hours presumed by such things as the graduation requirements and the UC/Cal State curriculum approval standards. Those are simple factual claims – there is no controversy over them in spite of your assertions to the contrary.

    I have also heard it said that the particular schedules of the extra periods tends (as evidenced by complaints) to systemically discriminate against some students based on family situation and economic necessity. The burden of this discrimination is observed to fall strongly along economic class and racial lines. These are on their face claims which are not obviously certain yet they are quite plausible given the unusually long school day the extra periods imply. To the extent BHS exclusively offers certain educational opportunities in these periods, it may very well face a serious liability problem and be in violation of state code. Thus, there is considerable incentive for the high school to realign the opportunities with a more ordinary class schedule.

    Moreover, when you write “[The Environmental Science lab problem] is supposedly that the number of minutes devoted to field trips is over the mandated number of minutes allowed by the College Board,” I suspect that there has been some miscommunication evidenced by your use of the word “allowed”. Perhaps that word choice did not originate with you but regardless, it is misleading. I believe the right word there is “required” or perhaps “recommended”. If you reconsider the issue in that light, and consider that BHS is attempting to balance the spending of a finite budget, the decision to cancel those particular lab sections might make more sense to you.

    It is obviously very important that people like you maintain a kind of “watch dog” status on the system. I genuinely appreciate a great deal of what you, Ms. Menard, and others have contributed to the debate from that posture. At the same time, if I may be frank, I think that you harm the case you are trying to make with such careless accusations and repeated ad hominem attacks.

  9. I’d rather gargle with toilet bowl cleaner than run for school board. As for the new, new reason to eliminate the AP Environmental Science lab, it is supposedly that the number of minutes devoted to field trips is over the mandated number of minutes allowed by the College Board. This is not true. BUSD can call the College Board to confirm if they have any interest at all in determining whether or not this is true. There is no cap on the number of minutes allowed for lab time or field trips. What will the new, new reason be next week? This is just like when BUSD developed a new-found interest in compliance with the California Education Code and said BHS was out of compliance due to labs being held during zero/seventh periods. When asked to cite the specific statute, the reason changed to fairness and standard pedagogy. Brother.

    BUSD has made a huge blunder by cutting science labs when they want to float a HUGE bond issue in the fall. I hope everyone will ask school board members and the superintendent whatever happened to the money from Measure AA, which was sold to us as the vehicle to build more classrooms for Berkeley High. There are now fewer classrooms than there were before that $116 million bond measure was approved in 2000. Nancy Riddle promised yearly audits of that bond money. There have been none (the recent “report” is not an audit), and now these people want us to give them even more money??? Fix the structural ineptitude first and then ask for more money.

  10. @Alicia,

    As to your point about getting more kids of color into AP classes, I attended the BHS Academic Choice General Meeting in early December and heard a well thought out proposal put forth by BHS Academic Choice program Lead Teachers Amanda Green and Sherene Randle (& VP Maggie Heredia-Peltz).

    The proposal has four components:
    1) Looping from 10th to 11th grade (meaning that students will have at least one teacher, likely a humanities teacher, who would teach them for two years, so that crucial relationships with students are established).

    2) Redesign and possibly rename core classes in 9th/10th grade as “Pre-AP Classes.” Scaffold the skills necessary to enter a humanities AP in junior year. Use advisory to establish student skills such as organizing, note taking, annotation, study stills, etc.

    3) Spiral the core curriculum grades 9-11 based on National and State standards, rich content and the skills needed to successfully complete at least two AP courses of a students’ choice in their four years at BHS. Connect students to tutoring. Help students create student run study groups. Encourage a diversity of literature to be used, etc.

    4) Repackage and remarket every AP class offered by Academic Choice. Have students and teachers from current AP classes talk to sophomore classes about the courses and their benefits. Teachers give sample lessons in sophomore year. Counselors explain how AP classes are weighted differently. Get more diverse parents to curriculum info night, etc.

    You can read it online at http://www.bhsacademicchoice.com under the heading “AC Equity Gap Proposal” – which is not the same thing the “Equity Grants” you may have heard about as part of the science lab brouhaha. However, I would expect that this Academic Chioce Equity Gap Proposal is something that, if approved, would require resources dedicated to its implementation. Unlike the mysterious Equity Grants, which I have yet to hear explained, this Equity Gap Proposal seems very well thought out, even comes with a Bibliography, and seems well worth consideration. It was addressed as a memo to Principal Slemp and I have no idea where it is in the pipeline right now.

  11. More local action…the SGC Meeting on Tuesday (1/24, 4pm in the community Theater lobby) could be real interesting. Several parents say they plan to attend. The agenda went out on the E Tree late on Friday.

  12. I agree that this was a better reporting job than the local articles. One inaccuracy: “The day doesn’t officially begin for another hour.” The school day begins, as has been noted frequently, with the first bell at 7:30 a.m. Since BUSD continues to state zero and seventh periods are outside of the “mandated” (which is nowhere defined in the state ed code) school day, it’s not surprising the reporter would get that wrong. How odd that BUSD never defined a mandated school day as such until they decided to cut lab funding in order to shift it to those equity grants.

    Last Wednesday at the school board meeting the superintendent stated that all AP science classes would retain their labs except for AP Environmental Science. That class has the highest minority enrollment of any AP science class–35%. Mardi Mertens teaches 136 students, so her .2 FTE is more more cost-effective than the .2FTEs for AP chem, AP bio or AP physics, which have no more than 60 students. Some of her African-American students spoke at the meeting about what the field trips have meant to them (they saw endangered clapper rails last Monday during their 4-hour outing with Save the Bay at MLK Jr. Shoreline) and they are the ones who were holding up the “I heart my science lab” signs mentioned in the LA Times article.

    The reason given to eliminate the AP Environmental Science lab is that the class is taught in one semester at other high schools. This is not true and the quote from the College Board handbook that describes this as a “yearlong” class has been sent to the superintendent. All sample syllabi from the College Board handbook for this course are yearlong courses. All high schools in the U.S., including Oakland High and Mt. Diablo High, teach this class as a yearlong class with a lab and/or field study component. Oh, the irony of it all….

  13. I thought this article was pretty balanced and a good overview of the controversy. Glad to see that a major paper has found it to be of interest. After reading it and many of the comments I had a thought: Why is there no proposal on the table to find a way to get more non-white students into those labs? That would be a goal, if achieved, that BHS & BUSD could be proud of.