Science in Schools?

Government in Action!

In January, the Berkeley (Calif.) School Board began consideration of a near-unanimous recommendation of Berkeley High School’s Governance Council to eliminate science labs from its curriculum, reasoning that the classes mostly serve white students, leaving less money for programs for under performing minorities. Berkeley High’s white students do far better academically than the state average; black and Latino students do worse than average. Five science teachers would be dismissed. [East Bay Express, 12-23-09]

From News of the Weird Jan. 24, 2010


That’s why they call it the granola state. It is full of fruits, nuts, and flakes. By far the easiest way to achieve equality and parity is to bring down the people at the top rather than lift up the people at the bottom. Somehow, I doubt any money saved is going to be dedicated to real education for the under-performing schools. I love things like the newest and fanciest metal detectors as much as anyone but things like science labs have a more direct impact on education.

That seems rather racist. If it doesn’t serve everyone, it has to be scrapped? That’s a bunch of crap.

The OP understates the issue by more than a bit:
Here’s a longer article on the subject.

Moving thread from IMHO to Great Debates.

Interestingly, the article indicates that the funding removed from the before- and after-school labs will be used for ‘“equity” programs’, but fails to give any indication of what kind of education or benefit is provided by these programs. (One suspects that they’ll be long on puffing up self-esteem and short on any usable educational content.) Meanwhile, the students who are motivated to “straggle in, sleepy… [at] 7:30 a.m. …The day doesn’t officially begin for another hour,” are penalized for doing more than taking “less-rigorous science classes – those that do not require extra lab time.” Overall, the effort fails to acknowledge the simple fact that the reason that many minorities as a whole do not excel in school is because the culture from which they come doesn’t place a high value on education. The answer isn’t to strip out all the challenging parts out of education so that anyone, no matter how unmotivated, can “do well,” but to motivate children of all ethnic backgrounds to value learning, and more tightly integrate science into the overall curriculum.

D- to Berkeley High.


I dunno, the AP classes were apparently funded with a tax that was created specifically to close the gap between the higher and lower income students. It’s obviously not serving that purpose if those lower income students aren’t attending the AP classes, so taking the money and putting it to a use more likely to serve its intended purpose seems reasonable.

A further thought from me on this: If the program costs $400,000 per year, I would think a big, big chunk of that could be covered by donations from some of Berkeley’s elite. When my wife taught at a high school in Scottsdale, AZ, there was a “Dad’s Club” that raised $800,000 for the school to buy new technology (a tablet PC and an LCD projector) for every classroom.

I believe the only solution to the inequities of education in America is to award PHDs to everyone, at birth.

Those wishing to know if the person they are considering for a job is capable of doing that job, will have to realize that discrimination on the basis of actual abilities is anathema to the basic constitutional right of everyone to be equal to everyone else, in every aspect.

What we really need to start addressing is the distressing tendency of some people to actually excel at various things. It’s undemocratic.


Although I feel the decision was a poor one, I have mixed feelings about the utility of labs in early science education. Maybe I just had really crappy lab experiences, but I found them to be a waste of time. I would be interested in reading more about what exactly was offered in the program that is being cut; the LA Times article didn’t seem to go into that. This does bring up the interesting question of how to allocate limited resources in education.

Welcome to the monkey house.

The OP is not an accurate assessment of the situation.

To begin with, the issue is not race, but income. So let’s not even begin to talk about racism or knee-jerk anti-racism. Nor are they “eliminating labs” entirely. They are eliminating supplemental labs held outside of class time.

Berkeley High School is surely among the world’s most divided high schools- it has kids from some of the rawest streets around (not to mention a large immigrant population- many of the refugees) mixing with the children of the elites. Most districts in this situation would simply build two schools- one rich and one poor. But in Berkeley’s tradition of social justice, they are trying to show that you do not need to divide people up like that, and doing their best to provide a quality education to everyone.

They have limited resources. They simply cannot serve everyone’s needs to the fullest.

They have found that one of their programs is extremely unbalanced, and that high-income kids (who likely can afford their own supplemental classes) are getting a first-rate science education, while lower-income students are not covering the basics. So they are finding a way to make sure that their limited money goes towards serving everyone. While it sucks that the gifted students can’t get everything they would like, there simply isn’t enough money for everyone to have everything they want, and it’s also not fair that the lower-level students do not get the resources they need. No easy answers, but I trust the people actually involved to assess the issues more than I trust some yahoos on the internet.

This thread is a lesson for me in avoiding knee-jerk reactions. My first thoughts were like some of yours: This is ridiculous! More anti-elitist dumbing down of American education! Where are tomorrow’s scientists going to come from, if all our resources are devoted solely to trying to get everyone up to some minimum level?

After reading posts like Simplicio’s and even sven’s, I realize there may be more to it than that, and that this action may actually be the Right Thing To Do.

Plus, I always disliked labs. They’re what turned me off to science (and on to math, where, in the words my philosophy prof discussing Descartes, you could “lie in bed and think”).

Well, no. This is a single high school. So at the same school, with the same classes, there are large performance differences between race and ethnic-based populations. At issue is competence; not race and not income. More competent students do tend to come from higher-income households because more competent households make more money.

What the article does not address is how much money is being spent per capita, and where. If it’s the case that the underperforming students are being deprived of the opportunity to become AP students or to participate in high-performance classes and labs, that’s needs to be corrected. Need a ride to get to those classes? Let’s figure out a way to get you there. Need supplies? Let’s fund them for you. And so on.

But…the pretense or implication that somehow the high-performers are high-performers because they have the advantage of income is an unproved assumption. This idea that we can just paste programs on the less competent and they will perform on an equal par has no merit, has never been demonstrated, and is equally a knee-jerk “yahoo” liberal reaction. And it’s what’s getting Berkeley liberals into a tizzie, because they want to pretend the only reason for the performance gap is income.

Here’s a photo of some football players from Berkeley High School. Looks to me like at least one group which supposedly couldn’t make it to the extra-hour lab classes because of their poverty status somehow made it to football practice and games…

It’s easy to call the bluff of the knee-jerk liberals: Instead of closing programs for the high-performers and throwing the money to some sort of vague “underachiever” program, how about focusing on accessibility to high-end programs? If the problem is truly a lack of being able to get to the program, fix that issue. If the problem is your group lacks the ability to perform, then don’t pretend the problem is income.

Uh huh. In Berkeley improving education for poor students seems to take the form of educational experiments like the Edible Schoolyard. Much as I’m in favor of gardening, the jury seems to be out on whether this helps students get ready for further academic life or a lifetime of work.

I’m not sure what is so “experimental” about the Edible Schoolyard. Most schools have units where students grow or raise something- I remember sprouting plants in soda bottle terrariums, taking home the class hamster on weekends, and raising a (disgusting) colony of silkworms. A permanent school garden seems like a pretty neat way to demonstrate biology, as well as introduce something to students that may become a passion (I wish I’d had the chance to take gardening rather than woodshop.) They get creative, too- I saw that they used their garden to demonstrate the way the Nile floods affected the development of ancient Egypt.

Or is it the kitchen you think is flaky? Most Middle School students take a Home Ec course, which traditionally involves stuff like memorizing the food pyramid and then learning to bake banana bread. It seems to me that learning to cook with fresh produce is a great skill to learn. Actually, every time we get in one of those “why are poor people fat?” threads, there is an overwhelming suggestion that people should be better educated on how to cook healthy foods using cheap seasonal produce. Indeed, I can’t really think of a downside to this whole thing.

But, I guess, some people just want to hate. I’ll listen to you when you could explain how the square-dancing unit I had to take in middle school prepared me for a life of education and work.

I think most of us can agree that in PUBLIC schools:

-science education is CRITICAL for the future of our country as a leader
-science education should be a priority in our schools
-religion/mythology should NEVER be given as facts, they should be part of history class

It seems some people want to throw out the term “hate” whenever a criticism is leveled against their pet theory that income level is the primary determinant of underperformance in school. But what deserves that appellation here?

I’m sure the edible schoolyard, raising silkworms, square-dancing and taking care of the class hamster are all lovely projects, possibly even contributing positively to learning. Questioning the extent to which any of these contributes to future academic success, or even holding to an opinion that they are nutty, hardly qualifies as “hate,” does it, (unless you are having some sort of knee-jerk yahoo reaction)?

I’m curious if you want to respond to my other post, above. You’ve argued the problem causing low participation in extra-hours advanced courses is income, and the underperforming groups are blocked by poverty to participate more fully. Is the Berkeley football team, then, largely composed of wealthy black students who just happen to be uninterested in advanced science courses?

Even sven never said this.

(by even sven, edited to cull out the statements to which I was referring; full post above) :

“The OP is not an accurate assessment of the situation.
To begin with, the issue is not race, but income…
They have found that one of their programs is extremely unbalanced, and that high-income kids (who likely can afford their own supplemental classes) are getting a first-rate science education, while lower-income students are not covering the basics…
While it sucks that the gifted students can’t get everything they would like, there simply isn’t enough money for everyone to have everything they want, and it’s also not fair that the lower-level students do not get the resources they need…”

My apologies if I misunderstood the gist of her comments. Perhaps she’ll be along to clarify them. I remain unclear why she thinks low-income students aren’t part of the advance science efforts, if it’s not income that is the barrier.