Schools

Class sizes at BHS

Three Berkeley High science teachers have done an analysis of class sizes at the school. It’s an attempt to inject facts into the debate around struggling students at BHS, and whether cutting science lab time is an effective way to close the achievement gap at the school.

Part of the undercurrent in the debate is the tussle between the two largest programs at BHS — Academic Choice and Berkeley International High School — and the “small schools” — CAS, AHA, SSJE and CPA. The School Governance Council, which originally considered the proposal to eliminate 0 and 7th hour science, has a high representation of small school faculty.

The first table shows how the student body is distributed across the two programs and the four small schools:

Academic Choice clearly has the largest number of students, with nearly half of BHS’s total. BIHS and Academic Choice together are three-quarters of the school.

The second table shows how Academic Choice and BIHS have generally larger class sizes:

Finally, the third table shows the release time for staff development and student support in the two programs and four small schools. Academic Choice and BIHS — with 75 per cent of students — have 50 per cent of the time.

Here’s what the three science teachers, Evy Kavaler, Matt McHugh, Amy Hansen, wrote:

Please read the attached “fact sheet” and distribute it as you feel comfortable.  The three of us have spent hours looking at class sizes and resource distribution and find that the claim that small schools are not being given a fair share of the school’s resources is just not true.

In addition,  AC and BIHS have made decisions to support struggling students with smaller class sizes.

The position taken by the Administration is that our students performing at grade level or above deserve little or no support is unconscionable.   Parcel Tax money is supposed to support all of our students.  Please make your voices heard.

They go on to note:

Approximately $90,000 in resources has already been spent for the development of an advisory curriculum that has yet to see the light of day.

The claim that at- risk students are not receiving adequate resources is just not supported by the facts.  Small schools already receive a disproportionate allocation of resources.

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  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    Mr. Knoble, I humbly submit for your consideration:

    You quote the science professors as saying: “The claim that at- risk students are not receiving adequate resources is just not supported by the facts. Small schools already receive a disproportionate allocation of resources.”

    There, alas, the science teachers speaking have begged some questions central to the debate. The science teachers have offered a rather unscientific conclusion.

    One key question they have begged is “how do we measure equity at BHS?”. Per their unspoken assumptions, equity is measured by the dollars spent on each program that a student participates in. In their argument, it is assumed that if an at risk student and a high achieving student each consume $N of BHS expenditures, then equity is present by definition. To that assumption I personally say “balderdash” but, my personal opinion aside, what they have assumed is actually the main question before us.

    What if it turned out that there was a strong preponderance of evidence from other urban schools that if we spent more on each at risk student, and less on each high achieving student, that the *outcome* would be far better for the at risk kids, and somewhere between “insignificantly worse” and “actually, a bit better” for high achieving students? Would “equity” not reasonably recommend that unequal level of spending? Yes, there is some risk to trying it. Nothing is a sure bet. The study these science teachers performed contributes nothing to the question of whether or not to make that wager.

    Moreover, their assumption – the answer they’ve assumed for the question they’ve begged – leads to absurd conclusions. Consider, as a thought experiment, a high achieving blind student. The school, in this scenario must pay a premium to get certain textbooks in braille editions. Do we then say to that student “Sorry, we spent so much on your textbooks that, no, you may not enroll in AP Biology because then we would be spending an inequitable amount on you.”? Or do we instead say “OK, where can we cut while minimizing harm so that that student can take AP Biology? Can we do it?”

    Which is the more “equitable” path? That is the question these science teachers have begged.

    There are other problems with their analysis but that said, I don’t feel so sad at them throwing a punch at the small schools programs:

    Every indication I’ve seen is that both the small schools and BIHS are bad ideas as currently implemented. The small schools and BIHS suffer from curriculum path lock-in and lottery. They increase administrative redundancy and thus diminish efficiency. They lead to intra-faculty faction fighting that creates exactly the kind of unscientific dumb mistake these science teachers have made.

    Vastly better, and achieving what I understand to be the *essential* aims of the small schools, would be to:

    1) Have mandatory advisory tracks for every student.

    2) Group students into “small houses” for advisory purposes, rather than small schools. A small house have stable advisers over their years at BHS and meet and be active as a group. Take whatever academic courses you like but your “small house” is your semi-randomly assigned group of same-advisers student peers.

    3) Every student is in (essentially) Academic Choice, however…

    4) The catalog has recommended “tracks” of study – particular curriculum choices a student might make – based on the UC Curriculum recommendations.

    5) Transcripts can note, explicitly, such things as “This student took 80% of the most challenging courses in our recommended AP-level biology track, which is well above above average.”

    6) Decline to seek accreditation for or to issue supplementary credentials (like that which is currently offered by BIHS).

    7) Move to an 8 period bell schedule with only non-core-curriculum, not-needed-for-graduation, not-needed-for-AP, no-better-for-college-admission-than-extra-curricular-activity electives in periods 0 and 7. And, perhaps by 2011-2012, move to a trimester schedule with staggered lunch periods.

    8) Close the campus for lunch with the exception of close-proximity approved vendors who submit by contract to campus regulatory authority. For example, students could get a pass to walk over to “doggie high” where, indeed, the patio might be operating as a study area. With BHS security. (A delicate transformation, that would be.)

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  • Amy Hansen

    Response to Mr. Lord:

    You are correct that equity can not just be determined by the # of dollars spent. However, the attitude of too many in the small school leadership and the Administration is that any extra funding for the middle or advanced student is too much. The small schools demand more and more economic support to the detriment of AP science offerings, honors or advanced math classes, and other academically challenging courses. Aren’t we supposed to teach all of our students?

    Many of us have not begrudged the extra resources given to at-risk students. In science we lowered class sizes for students in our at risk classes and have raised the class sizes in our college prep classes.

    Our argument was that the small school claim that in terms of just economic resources … they deserve more. But they already have more and that is what the data shows.

    The sad part is that for all the resources given to small schools they are no closer to closing the achievement gap than before their creation. They offer AP classes but their students do not pass the AP exam. Students in many of the small schools receive “A” and “B” grades but their performance on the STAR exams reflect below 20% mastery.

    Students in AC and BIHS have to work harder for equivalent grades. How is this “equitable”? All of this data has been presented to the School Board.

    The Principal refuses to require common assessments across the school so the content presentation between a class in AC or BIHS vs. the small schools has become quite divergent. How is this equitable? How are we preparing students to compete and survive in college when some students are being taught state mandated curriculum and others are not.

    The way to close the achievement gap is not to dumb down the curriculum which a 20% cut in the science curriculum will surely produce. Common curriculum, careful evaluation of student performance on outside assessments as well as internal ones, determined critique of our teaching and raising our expectations for students would be a better start.

  • Anon

    Maybe I was naïve when I voted for the $22 million/yr parcel tax measure
    whose core (66%) purpose is to lower class sizes.

    I thought the 28:1 class size ratio at the high school was for all students. There was no language in the measure about particular small schools or particular types of students. Yes, I did understand the ratio was to be an average, and a goal, allowing for a good deal of flexibility in application, but I inferred that fundamentally the measure, with its promise of greater personalization via smaller classes, was intended to serve most students most of the time. It is clear from the data above that is not the case. I was surprised to learn from other class size documents from the BSEP office that over 56% of the classes at the high school exceed the 28 student goal. It looks like it is possible that some BHS students derive no benefit at all from a measure that funds 42 of 110 FTE at the high school. I’m not sure that’s equitable.

    While there is no student success magic in the 28:1 ratio, it is the # promised to the voters who generously support the schools. Therefore, it seems that ratio should be a heavily weighted consideration when distributing the resources at the high school, and should be applied as broadly as possible.

    Although the parcel tax measure was not designed specifically to close
    achievement gaps or address other issues of social justice, most parents probably support some redistribution of resources in this fund to help underperforming students. The question is the extent and the effectiveness of the allocations. If students are to give up science labs or some instructional time or their opportunity to sit in a class of 28, we should see evidence–based data that the proposed new strategies for success for struggling students are likely to succeed. (Or data that existing 19:1 classes have been effective.) And we should also see evaluations of our successful programs. This is the kind of information we have seen little of in the various redesign plans.

    In a district whose parcel tax pays for nearly 30% of all classroom teachers,
    and constitutes nearly a fifth of the total district budget it’s really important that the planning team at the high school recognize and respect the contributions of the taxpayers and the parents of the entire student body.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    Ms. Hanson:

    I think you’ve now made one of the most informative and helpful posts in all these many threads on Berkeleyside. Thank you.

    You can see from my post that you’re responding too that I’m not about to stand up to defend the small schools concept. Indeed, I have some questions for you about it that I’ll get to just below.

    First I should say, though, that you say you have no grudge against disproportionate spending – then fine, you cede this particular debate. It seems to me that your real gripe is about the small school concept as currently realized. Why the heck aren’t you guys more organized to put *that* issue more squarely on the table?

    Alright, so, my questions… you wrote:

    “The sad part is that for all the resources given to small schools they are no closer to closing the achievement gap than before their creation. They offer AP classes but their students do not pass the AP exam. Students in many of the small schools receive “A” and “B” grades but their performance on the STAR exams reflect below 20% mastery.”

    There are so many variables to control for here that it’s hard to come to a firm conclusion. What you say sounds damning but — is it? How does it compare with history? How do demographically similar students in the small schools vs. BIHS and Academic Choice compare? What is the year over year performance of the small school’s like? What demographic selection biases exist that have to be controlled for comparing the small to the larger schools?

    On the one hand, we need to hear from the defense here (the small schools) but on the other hand you’ve not given nearly enough yet to even compel a defense.

    You write: “The Principal refuses to require common assessments across the school so the content presentation between a class in AC or BIHS vs. the small schools has become quite divergent. How is this equitable?”

    Did you think I would argue against that?

    You write: “Common curriculum, careful evaluation of student performance on outside assessments as well as internal ones, determined critique of our teaching and raising our expectations for students would be a better start.”

    Amen.

    You write: “The way to close the achievement gap is not to dumb down the curriculum which a 20% cut in the science curriculum will surely produce.”

    Here you and I diverge a bit. I think you may well be exaggerating the impact of the proposed cut but, that aside – high achieving students are a lot easier to serve and we should discount the projected impact of a cut if we combine the cut with community efforts to double-down on outside-the-classroom learning opportunities. In the same way that you (rightly) want to hold the small schools to a quite high standard of proving their effectiveness, you have to hold the programs to a standard of reasonably estimating and then measuring the impact of cutting them.

    Informally and unscientifically: you guys should organize a campaign to trash the small schools as currently implemented and advocate for something like the advisory “small houses” I describe above. Or I could be wrong and that would be a disastrous idea.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    “responding too”…. I actually wrote that (and other typos). Somewhere I do actually have a high school diploma, believe it or not.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    Ms. Hansen (spelled it right this time) one other kibbitz:

    Is their room in the curriculum (math, science, social science/humanities) to perhaps get the kids studying the comparative stats among the schools and demographics? I still do think that the science / analysis Mr. Knoble pointed at with this article is pretty darn sketchy but it is a good idea to go in that direction. Can’t the hard questions put before us be turned into projects that the students themselves help work on while learning?