Berkeley High: To close racial gap, cut science labs

To close the racial achievement gap, Berkeley High School’s Governance Council, made up of teachers, students and parents, has a modest proposal: Cut science labs and five science teachers to “free up more resources to help struggling students.”

Science labs mostly benefit higher-achieving white and Asian-American students, the council believes. The school’s enrollment is 33 percent white and 7 percent Asian; blacks make up 28 percent and Hispanics 13 percent.

Via Discriminations.

Berkeleyside has more on the debate, including a link to a letter by the high school’s science teachers. They say dropping the labs, which are scheduled before and after the regular class schedule, would cut science instruction time by 21 percent in most science classes, 30 percent in AP classes. It’s not clear how the savings would be spent, but commenters believe the plan is to create small “learning communities,” an innovation that’s failed to show results so far.

Update: A special bond issue funds music, art and an extra lab period once a week for regular science classes and twice a week for honors and AP classes. All labs meet in period 0 (before school) or period 7 (after school).  Because AP classes have time to cover more ground, high-achieving students may skip Biology I to go directly to AP Biology, skip Chemistry I for AP Chemistry and so on. A new “Science and Equity” group argues that good science teaching benefits all students and that extra lab time is most important for struggling students.

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  1. Scrooge McDuck says:

    Oh, now that’s fair.

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    the trend continues — the high achieving students continue to get the short stick — but what about the high achieving students from the other sub-groups that get screwed, too? Don’t educators think things through or better yet do they know how to think and see an issue from all sides? Nah…

  3. Don Bemont says:

    This is why one must be so careful about accountability schemes.

    The public, understandably frustrated with the quality of education, pays little attention to exactly what is counted; people just want people held accountable.

    Well, Berkeley is typical: this high school is following the data and trying to close the gap between subgroups of the population. If you assume the goal is to provide excellent education to all, that sounds insane. But if closing the gap is what counts, the plan makes sense. After all, the gap can be closed by harming the more successful group, even if no benefits accrue to the less successful group.

    Our high school hung a sign out front a couple summers ago proclaiming itself one of the best gap closers in the state. My wife and I gagged, but it seemed that no one else could see the irony. “We’re one of the best in the state. Isn’t that great?”

  4. The dumbing-down of public education continues. Now when someone asks why this public-school teacher recommends home schooling or private schooling, I’ll point them toward this article.

  5. This is a joke right? No, seriously. This must have come from the Onion.

    This is just more proof that “closing the achievement gap” is not a noble goal in itself. When schools and educators set the goal to close the achievement gap they quickly realize that there are two ways to close the gap: 1) knock the kids down at the top and 2) raise the kids up at the bottom. This idea seems to be trying to do both at the same time. But how can any real educator, parent or student be OK with #1?

  6. Richard Nieporent says:

    Clearly these Progressives think that Harrison Bergeron is a how to manual.

  7. Unbelievable. Surely they have got to know how insane that idea is, but evidently not.

  8. I STRONGLY disagree with the proposal…
    but at least get the facts right.
    They are not cutting science.
    They are not saying don’t do labs. Labs will still be required.

    What they are saying is that science labs will have to be completed during regular class meetings. Right noe at Berkeley High, science labs are taught during extra periods 0 or 7.. now the labs will have to take place during the regular class meeting times.

    I think this is incredibly short-sighted… science labs need more time… it is difficult to carry a lab over from one class to the next class the following day.

    But let’s at least be honest about the debate, folks.

  9. Barry Garelick says:

    But let’s at least be honest about the debate, folks.

    So sorry to have offended you.

  10. Here is a concrete example of where closing the gap is to be achieved by lowering the top rather than raising the bottom. It is a mistake to make “closing the gap” into an educational objective, rather than “improving performance”, i.e. of the low-performing groups. This example sounds egregious, but every time you hear “lowering the gap” this kind of think is latent. Why don’t public schools have accelerated classes for top-performing students? That would exacerbate the gap.

  11. Barry…

    Why the snark… I agree the proposal is horrible.

    But let’s be honest… no one is saying cut science or not teach labs. I am a college professor of physics, so I know the value of science and science labs to education.

    When I went to high school in the 1980’s, there were no extra special lab periods for science, even AP science… teachers had to integrate lab work within the regular course period.
    It is definitely challenging, but can be done.

    Again, I strongly oppose this proposal, but it shouldn’t be something that isn’t up for debate. I definitely hope that science teachers, parents, and supporters make their case that this is really short-sighted.

  12. And now begins the brain drain. If their able to, the parents of the higher performing kids will shift to charter or private schools to insure their kiddos get those lab and other classes. The higher performing kids who are unable to move to more competitive schools get screwed.

  13. When will the madness end. The race card is being played against science? This is probably more of an issue of religion than race.

  14. Why not just expel any student with a 3.0 or higher? Problem solved.

  15. Wow, Jab is correct. More complete story:

    The Berkeley High School Governance Council (SGC) voted last week to approve the latest school redesign plan, including a controversial proposal to eliminate science lab instruction that is currently offered before and after regular school hours.
    (emphasis mine)

    You have to read between the lines, and that’s always tough. Here’s how I read it:

    Science teachers are currently paid extra to run labs for AP courses outside of class time. The school wants to spend the money currently given to these science teachers on raising test scores.

    Is it normal for AP science courses to have “lab time” or is it normal for AP science courses to cover labs during normal class time? I’m a teacher, and I’ve never heard of extra lab time for AP courses at any school I’ve taught at. If it is the norm, and I’ve somehow missed it, then this is bad.

    If, as I suspect, it isn’t the norm, then golly gosh! Science teachers are objecting to the loss of their extra money. And they’re trying to portray the situation as a slap in the face to bright kids rather than a regrettable but logical redistribution of funds.

    Look, I’m all for privileging bright kids, regardless of race. But in this case, it sounds as if Berkeley High was gaming the school system, giving students extra AP time that other students around the state don’t get. If that’s true, then it’s entirely reasonable that in a time of funding crisis, they’d cut that time.

    Certainly, the first newspaper article is close to a lie, and the second one doesn’t go deeply enough into what is an unobjectionable funding cut–all because they want to present it in terms that will get the crowds roiled up.

  16. Barry Garelick says:


    My apologies.

  17. tim-10-ber says:

    I think someone on this board (or was it someone local) recommended taking each sub-group where it is and raising the bar for it…this would raise the bar for all students…won’t it? Then one doesn’t worry about closing the gap as much as raising the floor and ceiling for all…

    Why do sub-groups have to be pitted against each other? Competition is great but is it for athletics or band contests, debates or spelling bees? Why have sub-groups compete against each other as much as having them all strive (and make it) to their highest potential…

    What am I missing?

  18. Two of my kids attended a high-performing public high school in a suburban area, where they both took AP science courses. At that time (late 80s), all AP sciences had the prerequisite of successful completion of the corresponding honors-level course. All AP sciences were double-period, every day, allowing plenty of time for classwork and labs. My kids had friends at other, similar (public) schools nearby and I believe they had the same format. Depending on the science, 80-85% of the kids scored a 4 or 5 on the AP test. I do not know if the same format still exists. I know there has been lots of pressure, everywhere, to remove any barriers/prerequisites to AP classes. Ensuring that students have the knowledge and skills to master AP classes doesn’t seem to matter any more.

  19. I just checked the school’s website and the AP sciences are still double-period. BTW, the school is well-known nationally for its performances at various competitions, such as Physics Bowl, Science Team etc. It is not a magnet school.

  20. My thanks to those who dug deeper.

  21. The idiocy of the proposal is not only in its racist implications, but in the attack it represent on excellence. It takes exactly the wrong approach in its attempt to reduce the average achievement gap by depressing the excellent rather than by raising the minimum acceptable. Most of the so-called ‘privileged’ (read: white and Asian) children will get the extra support those labs represent elsewhere outside schools, but most of the ‘unprivileged’ that attended them will not. So the consequence will be a disproportionate impact on the excellent few from disadvantaged background, exactly the opposite of what is intended. Tom Sowell or Clarence Thomas would have never made it through such system.

  22. Independent George says:

    Honestly, I’m not sure I would have necessarily objected even if they were cutting science labs as a whole. I’m obviously limited in my sample size of one, but HS science labs for me involved a lot of chatting about music, doing homework for other classes, reverse-engineering of the “expected” results, and concluding with frantic copying of those results by lab partners. The experiments, procedures, and equipment used in HS bore absolutely no resemblance to what I did at the college level, and did nothing to help me understand either the concepts or specifics of my science classes. The time we spent “hands on” in the labs could just as easily been spent giving us lab data to analyze, and work through to their conclusions – at a fraction of the cost.

  23. What racial achivment gap!?!?! There is no racial achivment gap! Some of the students are either just plain lazy, or the teachers are not paying attention to their needs proporly. There is no point in screwing over the kids who are doing well in both science and AP science just because some are not doing well is just plain ridiculous! How about punishing the kids who won’t lift a finger, and helping the kids who really need it!

  24. If the story is true, this is the saddest. Closing gaps by lowering top requirements and standards is so wrong. Save us! There must be a back story here. What is it?

  25. Richard Aubrey says:

    So quantify “more resources” and explain how they will help “struggling students”. “more resources” have been provided by the shipload for several decades to little effect. How is this going to be different?
    What proportion of the children are “struggling”, which implies effort, and what proportion are coasting? Will the “more resources get the latter group to show some effort? If not, will the group difference remain essentially the same?

  26. Kevin Smith says:

    My experience in high school science, both as a teacher and a student, is the same as momof4’s. My AP classes I took were double periods to allow for labs and the AP classes I have taught have been the same. The only exception has been with block scheduled classes where all clas periods run 90 minutes and there are only 4 periods to a day. In that event AP science classes were year long instead of semester long (which means they were still double scheduled). As for Independent George, it sounds like he had some very bad high school science teachers who planned and executed labs very poorly. His experience hardly damns all high school science labs, just his personal teachers.

  27. Richard is right to question the “struggling” label. My observations and the postings here support the idea that failing students are also failing to struggle; exhibiting no effort whatsoever. By the time they get to high school, they are likely to be so far behind in knowledge and skills to render them incapable of HS-level work. It’s time to get back to starting in kindergarten with specific instruction, good curriculum, emphais on mastery and the end of social promotion. Also, the past 40 years have pretty much proved that throwing money at the problem does nothing. Let’s put focus and resources on those kids who want an education and are willing to work for it.

  28. Miller Smith says:

    Sadly, it seems that Black leaders are tacitly saying that Black students CAN’T do some things…ever.

    The racists that think low of Blacks aren’t White anymore.

  29. Looking at Guidestar, it seems Bayces’ funding from the Gates Foundation ran out in 2007-08. Bayces was apparently in charge of the redesign of the high school in 2003, splitting it into four small high schools and two large high schools. (

    I am not certain how Bayces could give Berkeley a grant, and some years later show up with a contract with the school district. For continuing services, perhaps?

    The bond issue, BSEP, is described on the school district’s website as:

    “A community response to school funding shortages in the wake of Prop. 13, the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP), has made a huge difference in the quality of our children’s education since 1986. This special local tax won the approval of 82% of the voters in 1994, and 92% in 1998. Measure A revenues will total about $21 million in 2008-09. The 10-year measure was approved by the voters in November 2006 with approval by 74% by the voters. The money is allocated as follows:

    * Smaller Class Sizes, Expanded Course Offerings, and Middle School Counseling Services (66%)
    * Programs to Enhance Student Learning, including school site programs (10.25%), school libraries, music (7.25%), visual and performing arts (6.25%), and parent outreach programs (1.25%)
    * Professional Development and Educational Program Evaluation and Technology for Schools (9%)
    * Before the money is divided into the the three categories above, 2% is taken for support of the Planning & Oversight Committee, translation, and public information

    The schools can decide how to spend the funds. I am not certain, though, how one can argue that firing science teachers and cutting lab time will fit with the spirit of the measure, as presented to voters. As described on the district’s website, its intent seems to be to increase school offerings, not act as a slush fund for the principal.

  30. The East Bay Express article also claimed that performance at the separate high schools is uneven. From the March, 2009 East Bay Express: “If all that were not enough, two weeks ago the Berkeley High Jacket reported that teachers in charge of small schools are pressuring the science departments at Berkeley High to inflate the grades of small school students.”

    At least it’s up front about its intentions. If I were a parent with the means to move, I would. If one chases enough achieving families from the district, the gap will appear to close–if you don’t look too closely.

  31. Update: The high school I mentioned above still has the appropriate honors-level science as a prerequisite for the AP class. It makes ssense; the honors class is a high school class and the AP is taught as a college one. BTW, some – maybe many/most – AP physics classes are not calculus based and cover only half the course over the whole year. The school above requires co-registration in AP calculus BC (AB is not offered; it covers one semester over the whole year) and the physics is BC only, in that it covers a whole year of college physics. In other words, there are fundamental differences between AP physics (or AP calculus) classes. It sounds as if the Berkeley offering is very different from the one my kids had.

  32. When are people going to realize that equal opportunity does not mean equal outcome. Catering to the lowest common denominator is not the answer!

  33. SirRuncibleSpoon says:

    How about this: Grade Credit Offsets!

    Concept: As overachieving white students amass AP credits and corresponding grade point averages, they will be taxed along a progressively configured sliding scale. Payment of this tax will be in the form of various percentages of their arrogantly aggrandized graduation credits and in points deducted from individual course grades. The school will administer a pool of points and credits (the PC Pool) to which underachieving students may apply as they discover a need for additional numbers to pass this or that course or, indeed, even to graduate. Voila! Look at what has been achieved:

    1) The Racial Grade Gap closes from both top and bottom.
    2) Racially privileged white students receive a lesson in racial sensitivity to effects of their unfair social advantage. They become aware of the unfair disadvantages their insistence on achieving brings to students of color.
    3) Racially privileged white students are given a meaningful way to share the fruits accruing to the application of their unfair advantages. This training prepares the overachievers to cheerfully accept their role as providers for the welfare of underachievers throughout their adult life. This course could be entitled Reparations 101!
    4) Racially disadvantaged students have their frustration at the unfair advantages of others recognized, legitimized and compensated. This prepares them to graciously accept further reparations throughout their adult lives!

    Application: The administration and disbursement of this system’s pool of credits and points weaves itself into the fabric of well crafted social studies curricula. In such curricula, its bases get thorough airing and its students trained to play their roles with pride and panache. Teachers will make the connection of this in-school Grade Credit Offset program with impending Carbon Offset regimes affecting whole economies, making the student experience all the more relevant.

    Grade Credit Offsets make sense, racially, righteously and really! Let’s all get behind this effort and make the most of this crisis.


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  2. […] And just before deadline,  Joanne Jacobs’s must-read edblog brings us a post about how the Berkeley High School governing council is proposing that science labs be closed (and science teachers let go), since such programs disproportionately benefit white and Asian […]

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  4. […] To close racial gap, cut science Joanne Jacobs To close the racial achievement gap, Berkeley High school’s Governance Council, made up of teachers, students and parents, has a modest proposal. […]

  5. […] Joanne Jacobs explains the targeted science labs are scheduled before and after the regular science classes. Eliminating them would “cut science instruction time by 21 percent in most science classes, 30 percent in AP classes.” In an update, Jacobs notes “extra lab time is most important for struggling students.” […]

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