Schools

Endangered science at BHS

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

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  • TL’s new friend

    How much more rope does he need to hang himself?!!!

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    re: “How much more rope does he need to hang himself?!!!”

    More than you seem to have, “anonymous coward”.

  • TL’s new friend

    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.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    “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.

  • Maureen Burke

    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.

  • Maureen Burke

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

  • A BHS parent

    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.

  • Carol Lashof

    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.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    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.

  • JNG

    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

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    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.)

  • Maureen Burke

    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.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    “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?

  • ac

    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.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    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.)

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