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