Berkeley, however, will take a different approach. They will figure out new ways to reach out to those students who are not reaching their full potential. And they will stop reaching out to those students who are.
The Berkeley High's School Governance Council, a group of students, parents and teachers, has recommended the school cut five science lab sections -- which the council says have mostly white students -- in order to redirect resources to reaching the other students. A council member who spoke to the newspaper said the decision was "virtually unanimous," which shows that, whether or not he did well in science, he has no idea what either of those words mean.
One of BHS's science teachers points out that while the advanced placement or AP labs may reach mostly white students, there are minority students in them also. The teacher doesn't mention it, but achievement in AP labs and classes is often heavily weighted when students apply to elite colleges or in scholarship applications -- so some of those minority students who would lose their labs might have much more difficulty in being accepted or in paying for college following high school.
On the one hand, there's a certain ugly but undeniable logic to the suggestion. If the school wants to use resources to reach underperforming students, it will have to take those resources from somewhere. On the other hand, the council's stated rationale -- the labs reach white students and we need to help non-white students so we'll take away what the white students have and give it to the other ones -- is bigotry writ fairly large. There are, one might assume, some other course offerings that BHS could trim to gain the needed resources to improve education among those who need the most help. Fortunately, BHS puts its course catalog -- more than 90 pages, which I think is longer than some smaller colleges -- online so we can check out what some of those courses are.
There is, for example, the "Social Justice Seminar" course "Social Justice, Social Responsibility and Social Change." Really? Takes a whole year to teach kids "Vote, pay your taxes, don't break the law, do unto others as they would do unto you, love your neighbor as yourself and look out for the little guy?" Maybe even the high-performing Berkeley students aren't that smart.
BHS offers a semester-long course in "Popular Culture in 20th Century America." This is a course that presumes teachers know more about pop culture than students, which is a non sequitir of monumental proportions. The pop culture teachers would know more about is the older pop culture, AKA "What my parents liked," and I think we know how much teens love to hear their parents talk about the music they liked, movies they saw, and cool clothes they wore.
There are others. The PE department offers year-long courses in "Funk Aerobic Exercise," badminton (teacher recommendation required for placement in the advanced group), and a semester-long ultimate frisbee course.
A superficial view to be sure, but the point is that the council which recommended the cuts could have found plenty of trimmable things on which BHS spends its taxpayers' money that could free up resources for needed work among its low-achieving students. Especially considering that those labs also serve minority students.
Instead, Berkeley High's School Governance Council seems quite happy to be a school that would rather tell smart minority kids whose performance in an advanced placement lab might have earned them shots at MIT that it's more important for them to have the chance to take a semester of ultimate frisbee. That choice may or may not have been thought through. But it certainly indicates a group of folks who are through with thinking.
(H/T to Erin O'Connor, who used the headline I wanted to use)