California school districts, like the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), are separate from other local jurisdictions, like the City of Berkeley. Our locally elected BUSD school board is accountable and responsible for setting educational policies, funding, and oversight for Berkeley’s K-12 public schools. Therefore, it is surprising that the BUSD school board has handed over its responsibility for setting the educational vision for the school district to the self-appointed, non-elected 2020 Vision Planning Team.
The five-member BUSD board has out-sourced the task of developing a plan to close the achievement gap to the self-appointed 2020 Vision Team. BUSD paid $50,000 for the plan out of State Program Improvement funds. The team’s recommendations to close the achievement gap include a proposal for a City tax measure to fill City coffers, but offer little in the way of substantive solutions. The recommendations will be presented to both the Berkeley school board and city council at a Special Council Meeting on Nov. 3.
Aside from the single elected school board director, none of the 24-member 2020 Team is accountable to the public. School board director Karen Hemphill is the only elected official. Facilitated by the Berkeley Alliance, team members include BUSD Superintendent Huyett, several BUSD and city administrators, paid consultants, and reps from the teachers’ union, UC and Berkeley City College.
The achievement gap is indisputably one of the most important educational issues facing not just Berkeley, but California and the nation. The achievement gap refers to the disparity in academic achievement in English and math, as measured by standardized test scores, between White students and other subgroups groups--African-American, Latino, socio-economically disadvantaged students, English Learners (EL), and students with disabilities. Many criticize standardized tests, but, realistically, standardized testing is the only way to measure student academic progress on a school district, state, or national scale. In BUSD 87.8 percent of White students in the district tested proficient in English compared with 32.2 percent of African-American students and 36% of Latino students. In math 85.1 percent of White student tested proficient, compared with 31.2 percent of African-American students and 44.4 percent of Latino students.
In the draft document written by the 2020 Vision Team, the “achievement gap” has been redefined as the problem of “low levels of achievement and high levels of poor health among Berkeley’s Latino and African-American children.” Thus, the “2020 Vision for Berkeley’s children and Youth” focuses on the public health issues and needs of African-American and Latino students, but is silent on the needs of socio-economically disadvantaged, English Learners, students with disabilities and other struggling students in our community.
The 2020 Vision Planning Team did not evaluate any of the currently existing BUSD educational programs or the current array of youth services—provided by city health, recreation, and police departments—funded by $18 million from the City. Instead, the 2020 Team developed a laundry list of nine broad, unfocused goals without any specific programs. Most of the goals have, at best, a tenuous connection to K-12 education. For example, “Goal 2: Eliminate the historic racial pattern of health inequities among Berkeley’s children and youth,” or “Goal 7: Develop a consistent culturally and linguistically responsive system in all city and school services to address the specific needs of African American and Latino students and their families.”
The only recommendation concerning K-12 education is the suggestion to “Redesign secondary education, grades 6-12.” Few specifics are given. At a recent school board meeting discussing the creation of a charter high school in Berkeley, at least one school board member cautioned, “Let’s wait to see what 2020 has to say.”
The BUSD board should be the leader, not the follower, in setting the educational direction for Berkeley. Any City tax measure for 2020 Vision will go to city coffers, not BUSD schools. City provided youth services, as well as programs supported by local colleges and non-profits, should be coordinated with Berkeley schools. That goes without saying. But the responsibility and accountability for improving academic achievement for all students while closing the achievement gap belongs to the BUSD school board, not 2020 Vision or the City of Berkeley. The BUSD school board should not adopt the recommendations from the 2020 Vision Planning Team when presented for a vote. The achievement gap is a real problem, but 2020 Vision offers no solutions.
The draft of recommendations from the 2020 Vision Planning Team is available on the Berkeley Alliance website: www.berkeleyalliance.org
Priscilla Myrick is a Berkeley resident, former BUSD parent and member of the 2020 Vision All-City Equity Taskforce Team for grades 6 to 8. firstname.lastname@example.org