Public Comment

Commentary: The 20/20 Vision: How Good is Our Garden?

By Santiago Casal and Michael Miller
Tuesday March 18, 2008

The 20/20 Vision is a public declaration that sets a goal for the elimination of the “achievement gap” by the year 2020. 2020 is the year when our children who entered kindergarten in September 2007 are scheduled to graduate from Berkeley High School. United In Action (UIA), a multiethnic community coalition in Berkeley, conceived the declaration. It poses a challenging question: “On that graduation day in 2020, will we be able to beam with pride at our success?” 

According to a San Francisco Chronicle article, 10 of the 98 persistently low-scoring districts in the state are in the Bay Area and one of them is the Berkeley Unified School District.  

Currently 70 percent of African American and Latino students in Berkeley are scoring at basic or below on statewide tests, and they are not improving as they move from kindergarten to grade 12. Interesting word, “kindergarten”: of German origin, it means “garden where children grow.” How good is our garden?  



By necessity we rely on testing as a measure of what we know to be the deepest problem of education today—the inability to fully engage all students in a relevant and meaningful education. However, testing is only one indicator of success, and it is flawed. 

The concept of the “achievement gap” has become so culturally pervasive, it feeds on itself as it fuels the stigmatization of children of color and the reinforcement of racial stereotypes.  

One of our UIA members was in tears recently as she shared that she was thinking of taking her child out of Berkeley High. She was struggling hard to keep her daughter engaged, looking to the future, to college enrollment only to find that her daughter seriously doubted her college potential. “White kids are smarter than us, Mom. They score so much better on the tests, don’t they?”  

Yes, they score better. But they are not smarter. Rather they have more “opportunity,” and they are expected to achieve at higher levels than black and brown children. How is that possible in Berkeley of all places? We who have so much pride in education and social justice. 


Is the promise of change in the air? 

We are edging up to a new season, Spring—a time in nature of rebirth and new beginnings, a time to plant the seeds of a beautiful new garden. Might we extend this metaphor to collectively kickoff a fresh and hopeful approach to the sad state of educational success in our schools and community? The promise of change may be hanging in the air. 

A new Superintendent of Education, Bill Huyett, has come into town. He was hired stating that closing the achievement gap would be a top priority for the BUSD. We all want him to be triumphant with that challenge. And UIA will diligently work with and support him. But no matter how passionate or dedicated he may be, the problem is bigger than he or any single institution can deal with alone. 


A Total Community approach 

United In Action is campaigning for a Total Community approach. The approach will require getting past many constraints—budgetary, jurisdictional and imaginative. It will take a galvanizing force that alters the way we look at things—one that shakes us out of our inertia or indifference and mobilizes the energies needed to sustain the effort.  

UIA’s total community approach proposes a partnership model pulling together the BUSD, City of Berkeley, University of California, Berkeley City College, Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, Justice Matters, Policy Link, Greenlining Institute, other relevant non-profits and community based organizations, the business community, the teachers union, parents, students and the citizenry of Berkeley. It is an approach that does not look into the rear view mirror for blame but rather forward with a road map for the future.  

Such a partnership would bring together the economic, intellectual and innovative resources needed to comprehensively address what should be morally offensive to a community like Berkeley. 

According to a CEO’s for cities briefing paper on “How Business and Civic Leaders Can Make a Big Difference in Public Education, “Everybody who lives or works in a big city has a stake in the performance of the local public school system. Businesses and cultural institutions suffer when thousands of young school graduates are unprepared to do productive work or take a full part in civic life.” UIA is asking that: 

• The City of Berkeley issue a resolution and implementation plan declaring the elimination of the achievement/opportunity gap a city-wide priority. 

• The district adopt a plan with accountable yearly targets to eliminate the achievement/opportunity gap by 2020. 

• The city and superintendent invite all relevant public and private entities to become a part of a new city-wide partnership that will dedicate existing and new resources to eliminating the gap.  

• The city and superintendent convene a Community Commitment Conference to solidify a clear-sighted vision and to mobilize the will of the city. 

• The city and superintendent concurrently appoint an Equity Task Force, accountable to the city-wide partnership, which will bring together national scholars and innovative thought leaders.  


The clock is ticking 

Achieving the 2020 Vision will require a substantial percentage jump in equity each year. The cumulative benefits would be enormous—less time spent on remedial “catch-up,” more time spent on student advancement, and less conflict and resentment rooted in inequity. 

The 2020 generation is already seven months into it’s first year. We urge our community members to quickly support the partnership by talking with your mayor, school board director, councilmember, PTA representative, or any other appropriate individual or organized body.  

The clock is ticking. Every month is important as we move to that day in June of 2020 when we stand shoulder to shoulder with our children in a celebration of their success….and our success as a community. 

Our children are the fruits of our garden. Let us not fail them. 


Santiago Casal and Michael Miller are members of United In Action, representing Latinos Unidos (LU) and Parents of Children of African Descent (PCAD).