A Discussion from 2001 "Parents of Teens" newsletters about the small schools proposal for Berkeley High School.
forwarded by Iris Starr, Joan Blades, Melissa Quilter
May 19: Summit on "Smaller Learning Communities" at Berkeley High
From (8:30 for coffee) 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., join us for an open community meeting to find out what Smaller Learning Communities (SLCs) could mean for your growing children and our community, featuring:
* A brief history and status of the SLC planning process at Berkeley High School
* Keynote Speaker Steve Jubb, Director of the Bay Area Coalition of Equitable Schools
* A forum for questions from the community and answers from the experts
Bring other parents you know, your neighbors, and your children! If Berkeley High School is to remain accredited, we need to make big advances in eliminating the disparity in achievement between students of different races, reducing truancy and violence, and retaining the best teachers for our kids. The best chance for doing this is through a comprehensive planning effort, not by the type of piecemeal actions that have been tried in the past. Join us in this exciting (and essential) strategic planning and school change process! For more info, visit our website at: http://www.geocities.com/berkeleysmalllearningcommunities/index.html
Is anyone else out there worried about the prospects of dividing BHS into Small Learning Communities? Here are some concerns:
- adding another layer of bureacuracy and adding another remove from accountability--who's in charge of monitoring learning and how do you remove/reorganize a SLC that isn't up to par
- adding another way for those in the know to get ahead, at the expense of those who can't or won't advocate for themselves
- having the prospect of $$ steer policy instead of the other way around
- why not shore up what is working at BHS and bring the entire school up to snuff ?
- how do you get in or out of a SLC if it isn't right for you? who are the gatekeepers?
- how do you get full participation by faculty, which is needed, it seems, to guarantee success? from comments here and elsewhere it seems that, in addition to extremely dedicated faculty at BHS, there is a share of not-so-dedicated.
I am also worried about dividing BHS into small learning communities. I attended the meeting last week at the alternative school. While many interesting ideas were brought out, I have several areas of concern:
- The research quoted referred to "small schools," which are not necessarily the same as small learning communities.
- What is this research? Where can we find and read it for ourselves?
- People in the past have been quick to jump on the bandwagon for something they think is going to "fix" our schools without properly researching it in detail (remember whole language?). Before we subject BHS to the disruptions entailed in changing the entire nature of the school, I think we should consider long and hard.
- I have not so far been impressed by the efforts of the SLC advocates to convince us to join them. A lot of buzz words fly around, but nothing was said at the meeting that would convince me to join them. The web page also contains no hard information.
SLC's may indeed be the answer to BHS's woes. But we all need more information, a lot more. Jenifer
First of all, I think "small schools" and "small learning communities" are essentially the same thing.
Most important, however, is that I agree that SLCs are not a panacea. Anyone who thinks that they will solve all the problems at BHS is unrealistic, in my opinion. I think we all need to be careful about expecting any one thing to solve all the problems at the school The issues are very complex and include social and family issues that cannot necessarily be effectively dealt with by any particular school structure. It also includes the fact that some teachers are better than others. No matter how we change (or don't change) the structure of the school, students will not have a good learning experience with certain teachers. That's a fact that we can't change.
On the other hand, IF we can deal with the issue of ensuring a good mix in each SLC (i.e., racial, economic, etc.), AND do it in a way that speaks to the interests of each student, then I think we have a better chance of having a better learning (and LIVING) experience at BHS. Think about how you feel when you are at a large gathering with mostly people you don't know vs how you feel when you are at a smaller gathering with people most of whom you do know. Isn't there more investment and interest in the smaller gathering? Aren't you more at ease, unless you hate the people in the smaller gathering? But then that's the idea of trying to find the right MIX of people, but with similar interests. If I am interested, I am more likely to be invested and to do well and to feel committed to my work. Wasn't that true when you were at school? When I liked the subject, and the teacher, it was easier to do the work.
Somehow, although there are problems to be dealt with, I like the idea of SLCs. BUT I encourage us all to be careful about expecting too much from them, especially in the beginning. YES, WE NEED TO PLAN CAREFULLY AND FULLY. But even then, anything new usually brings problems we are not expecting. IF we go to SLCs, and things aren't perfect right off the bat, I hope we will all be both patient and involved enough to fix what's wrong and keep what's right. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." (I hope it's ok to quote this; I love it and it seems to apply here). Meg
I am concerned that the SLC may become "dumping" grounds. I want them totally integrated and, if they are the "wave" of the future, responsive to academic concerns. My nephew wants to join Common Ground,and I have allowed him to do so. I will be watching/evaluating his educational experience very critically, in the Fall. I want him educated for the future, not just made to "feel good". Theda
I also am interested in knowing more about the small learning communities concept - including: how small is "small"? Will everyone be included, or will some be left out? One of the main reasons I am interested, though, is the potential for reducing violence - by making students less "anonymous" than they are now. If smaller learning communities will help make our children safer, that's a worthwhile end in itself. fiona
I read with interest two comments/questions about the effort at Berkeley High to explore the possibilities that smaller learning communities may hold for addressing student, parent, community and staff (and now the western schools accreditation committee) concerns about the shortcomings of our community's single, large (one of the largest in the state) high school. As a parent of a graduating 8th grader, and despite being in BUSD schools for 9 years so far with 2 kids, I had very little first hand knowledge of BHS. Therefore about 5 months ago I started trying to find out what this huge school might be like-more than what I'd heard or read indirectly. I had heard about CAS (communication arts and science) and the computer academy, and came across Common Ground, one of the newer "small learning communities" which focuses on environmental sciences using multidisciplinary/systems thinking and learning tied with experiential learning. These are some of the "smaller learning communities" that exist already at the high school. The idea seemed intriguing. Having worked on equity issues from the elementary level on up and being well aware that the achievement gap certainly doesn't start at the high school, but is accentuated and writ larger there because the stakes are higher, I also wanted to understand how smaller schools within a school could make a real difference for ALL students, when other approaches seemingly haven't. What's size got to do with it? Well, my gut level feeling is that BHS is too damn big and that being so large it is that much easier for large number of students to fall through many different cracks, be unknown to caring adults, lose time(academically and personally) that can't be recaptured, become demoralized or alienated, and fail to have someone catch them before they fall further, fall out of school altogether,(or stay but with Ds and Fs).
So, I went to a small learning communities (SLC) meeting. Most people there were asking questions-how will this work, what will happen to x,y or z (sports, music, special programs--plug in your own personal interest area), how will equity be an issue that gets paid attention to across all of any existing or new SLCs, will these smaller groupings make strudents safer,what's the research say, are other schools doing this (yes, they are across the country!) and if so, how's it working. Rick Ayers, faculty leader of CAS and the coordinator for the small learning communities planning grant, has compiled quite a bit of research and stories about small learning communities across the country www.smallschools.com and http://www.smallschoolsworkshop.org/info3.html .
At any rate, this is a planning process, with grant support from the federal Dept of Ed and Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (with Gates Foundation $), to get input, try to answer some of the questions people have, develop support among teachers, unions, parents, students, community groups and others and discuss the actual configuration/policies/best practices of what smaller learning communities at BHS could look like. Some people are going to visit other high schools in the area (SF,Marin,San Jose and more) that already have SLCs, others are reading the literature/ research coming out of Chicago, Cambridge and other communities who have made this change, others are holding house meetings to discuss SLCs and raise more questions and try to get people's ideas on how this could work better than the one over-sized, factory style high school called BHS.The goal of the planning grant staff, cmt and supporters of this idea is to write a proposal for the school board to consider in the fall, which, if successful, would lead to the submission of a full-fledged Small Learning Communities grant to the Dept of Education, with the possibility that the Bay Area Coalition of Equitable Schools, which is providing technical assistance and $ for the planning process, might also provide additional financial support to support SLC at BHS.
I am one parent looking at how to improve BHS, and I think that SLCs make a lot of sense and could help address many of the concerns about being large/impersonal, not safe, do something about THE achievement gap in more meaningful individualized ways, hold teachers, parents and students accountable, etc.. Parents and students in CAS, Common Ground, the computer academy and other small program within BHS, seem to prefer these arrangements for a variety of reasons; they are limited in many ways however (CAS is 3 periods a day, Common Ground hopes to have as many as 6 periods a day) and don't have the infrastructure to "go all the way": to designing learning around students needs and engaging every student in meaningful educational experiences. Yes, there are a lot of questions, but there is evidence that this path can improve the large (3000 plus-) comprehensive high school that just doesn't work for all of our students in the 21st century, where educational inequality(by race/ethnicity) is said to be the one of the biggest barriers to a more just and democratic society. Ask questions and get involved-BHS needs your ideas and energy-if you are frustrated by being recruited to walk safety patrols on campus, come construct the future where they, hopefully, won't be needed! Kathy
I'm writing in response to Jenifer's concerns about the small learning community effort at BHS. I went to BHS many years ago and I would like my son to go there in a couple of years. Sadly large numbers of students fail to thrive at BHS. Small learning communities such as CAS and the Computer Academy are in high demand and appear to be succeeding. I believe small learning communities are our best chance of dramatically improving the experience of all BHS students. There are now decades of research on small learning communities. It has been empirically established that they:
1. Improve academic performance (Including reducing the achievement gap.)
2. Decrease violence (Federal funding became available after the Littleton CO shooting.)
3. Raise both student and teacher moral and attendance
This is the short list. For academic and popular articles about small learning communities take a look at LINKS at the small learning community website. http://www.geocities.com/berkeleysmalllearningcommunities/index.html
Small Learning Communities take many forms and at this time there is no plan for what kind of small learning communities might be formed at BHS. The BHS community must decide that together.
An example benefit: Small learning communities would change teacher and student dynamics. Presently most BHS teachers teach nearly 150 students per day and every semester they teach a new 150 students. It is not humanly possible for teachers to take a deep interest in all of these students. In a small learning community teachers would most likely see less than half that many students per day and they would see those same students semester after semester. The chance for real relationships to form are dramatically better. Moreover teachers within a small learning community would have better opportunities to coordinate efforts to help struggling students. One stated goal of small learning communities is "Personalizing Learning for every student." In theory students would no longer be able to slip through the cracks with no adult noticing.
Small Learning Communities do not solve all of BHS problems. They do however put problems on a more human scale. Hence more parents get involved, success and failure become more apparent and action is more likely to be taken and prove effective. I believe this is an opportunity to begin to make BHS a great school. Joan
Parents of children attending public school,students and teachers have a choice to make soon about the future of Berkeley High School. As parents who have kids in BHS and parents whose kids are approaching high school, you who read this newsletter see all the issues that keep coming up about BHS. How/why it is not working. There is a process going on now to decide whether to restructure Berkeley High School into small autonomous schools. This is called the "Small Schools" movement. It is an approach that has been used with success school-wide in other communities. Berkeley High already has several Small Schools functioning- CAS-Communications Arts and Sciences- a humanities based program that focuses on Social Justice. Common Ground- an environmental focus. Computer Academy-and this year Academic Choice. My daughter is a Junior in CAS. She is very passionate about the relationships she has developed in CAS with teachers and students.These relationships exist because there are 60 kids in her grade level in CAS that she stays with for all 4 years. By now she has met these kids in English and History classes for 2+ years. She knows her teachers.They know her. She told me-one of the reasons she why likes CAS so much and can see how Small Schools work for the students is that when you enter the Sophomore year, instead of starting all over again to figure out who is who and feeling self-conscious about participating in class, you know everyone and something about their point of view. Even if you don't agree with them you know that already and what to expect and can continue the discussion. Research has demonstrated that school size is a major factor in student academic success. Small automomous schools significantly improve the education and achievement of urban students, particularly students of color and low-income students. The achievement gap is a big problem at BHS and is affecting its accredidation. There are alot of reasons to go forward with this process.
As a parent- It has been my experience that as your child moves up through school it becomes harder to stay connected to the school or other parents. Being a CAS parent has given me a school community to participate in to help support the teachers as well as the students. The decision to restructure or not has to be made by the end of this year. There are meetings going on now, focus groups plus a website. A community wide meeting will take place on Dec 1st- this is for the whole community to show their support. The students and teachers will vote on this Dec 3 and 4. The school board will vote Dec 5. For those of you concerned about funding, there are 2 large grants available to fund the transition that could be used if the community decides to do this.
I urge anyone who is interested in finding out more about this processs to visit the website. http://berkeleysmallschools.org There is alot of information on the website on the process taking place now, how to get involved, links to research on small schools, timeline, etc. Unfortunately, we do not have alot of time. Dec 4th is only one month away! If after looking at the website, you would like more information or have questions about any aspect of this, or would like to help in the process to restructure BHS into small schools please contact me. Laura
It is becoming more and more apparent to me, as a parent who only recently returned to Berkeley High from a year's absence, that the call for small schools is building to a crescendo. Proponents are now talking rallies and city council meetings and actions They want reform and they want it NOW.
Schools should be about education, not politics, and yet, the adoption of the small schools has become a political issue.
Without even venturing close to the educational arguments--most of which I understand are favorable to small schools--I can't believe the timing. BHS reels from crisis to crisis with no one at the helm. It is clearly this vacuum which has allowed some of the small schools to get as far as they have with inadequate structure and supervision. It is also very clear to me that we, as a community, are in no position to radically overall the school at this moment. We need a leader first or there will be one mess after another. My goodness, If EVERYONE is placed in a small school next fall, which is what the small school people want, we are going to have chaos. CAS was created by a group of dedicated, excited teachers banding together to create something special. But, if every teacher in the entire school is assigned a spot in a small school and then every child is also assigned a small school, can you imagine the panic to avoid having one's child assigned the small school that has the math teacher that spends his teaching time chatting on the phone or the economics teacher who assigns one task the entire semester--draw a picture?
There are big questions (i.e. what will happen to teacher choice, what about unenthusiastic teachers, and the elective program?) Thinking big-time sweeping reform, we need someone to first put the house in order and for that we need a principal who is willing to stay around awhile and actually supervise what happens. And, we also need to give the new superintendent time to put the district in order. Is there no way the small school people can take a deep breath and pause? I think it is important the school board hear that Berkeley High needs time now, not turmoil. Please call and let them know what you think. They can be reached at (510) 644-6550 or by e-mail BoardofEd [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us. Janet
Let's not put the cart before the horse. The reason we can't seem to keep a principal at Berkeley High is that the school has become unmanageable. I wouldn't recommend waiting around for a new leader to restore order and hope that he or she can fix such deep-seated problems as the achievement gap between well-prepared, middle-class kids and kids of color and the poor teacher retention rates at the high school. In fact, this might be a good time to initiate meaningful change because the present administration-by-committee arrangement seems to have resulted in more teacher input in the running of the school. Who better to help shape education than the teachers!
We shouldn't mistake urgency for haste. Anyone who has had any contact with the school would appreciate the complexities involved in moving toward a comprehensive plan that will treat everyone as fairly as possible while optimizing the educational opportunities for all of its students. As I understand it, the main reason for seeking a commitment on small schools now is that the large grants needed to fund the deliberate design and implementation of a plan must be applied for without much more delay. If the school community as a whole embraces a well-articulated though general policy on small schools in early December, we'll all move on to the design phase during which the particulars will be worked out. Implementation of a plan would not occur until the Fall of 2003. I am currently working with the group of teachers and parents who are attempting to survey each and every one of BHS' 200 plus teaching staff. We hope to collect as much data as we can so that the basis for proceeding is as broad, factual and concrete as possible. It's been highly interesting work, and we could use some help. Audrey
Dear Parents Of Teens, We sent the following letter regarding BHS Small Schools to the Disrict and City Counsel. One of BHS's strenghths is course selection. We are very concerned about the lack of choice in electives in the existing small schools at BHS. While we agree that there is a profound need for improvment at BHS, we don't agree that small schools designed around set curriculums, is appropriate.
Member of the Board of Education & Superintendent of Schools, Berkeley Unified School District
Ladies and Gentlemen: This is concerning the proposal for Small Schools Design and Implementation in the Berkeley Unified School District. We have finished reading the Sample Policy Documents (referred to as SEEDS) and wish to convey our concern and skepticism regarding this proposal as a remedy for disparity in performance within Berkeley High.
SEEDS raises a number of good points but it fails to show how the Small Schools Initiative will deliver the vision described in the second paragraph of the Introduction. Indeed, this vision describes what we want from any school and elucidates why large numbers of people are sending their children to private schools (hoping to capture this vision outside of public schools).
The cited research makes vague reference to "well-designed schools" and "practices developed in many college-prep and private schools". However after reading SEEDS, we were unable to understand what criteria will be used to identify good school design. In fact it seems the proposed co-location will undermine the majority of conditions intrinsic to the necessary autonomy required by small schools.
The Guiding Principles described in SEEDS Section IX are wonderful! But we fail to see how these are the exclusive province of Small Schools. We believe they should apply to any school of any size. The real issue is HOW to manifest these principles in real life. It is not intuitively obvious to us that Small Schools will do this. Our experience in navigating our two children (BHS classes of '04 and '07) through BUSD has given us a clear look at the difficulty of manifesting these principles. In one instance we were told that there was no room for our son in our preferred school because it had all the white males it needed. Given any number of small schools as proposed, we fear that this will again become a factor in whether a student will be able to pursue the curriculum they desire. And scheduling is also problematic: This year, CAS students were prohibited from taking straight AP Algebra II. They were required to take the Honors option within regular Algebra in order to keep the CAS students together. We would point out that the two (AP Algegra II vs. Honors options within Algebra) are not equal. Will we be eliminating all AP classes for an AP option alternative?
The fact that funding is available for Small Schools Initiatives should not cloud your judgement on this matter. Implementing a radical "overhaul" of our school district in favor of Small Schools is not convincing. This proposal includes additional administration and counseling (and presumably smaller class size). Why not try these changes first, without dividing up the school? Without much more information we strongly urge you to oppose this proposal. Let's not throw out what works at BHS in order to fix what needs work.
Richard & Margie
November 22, 2001 Note from the Moderator The following messages were received regarding the proposal to convert Berkeley High into small autonomous schools. Because they are long, they've been included in a separate mailing. Parents of Teens is not the optimal place to have this important discussion, because 1) most parents and teachers at Berkeley High do not subscribe to Parents of Teens, 2) Parents of Teens policies may be restrictive for some writers 3) there are many parents on the PoT list who are not in the BUSD. A better forum would be an egroup (such as yahoo offers) or the discussion list on the smallschools website: http://lists.berkeleysmallschools.org/mailman/listinfo/smallschools However in the interest of public service and also in the interest of time, Parents of Teens will run one more special edition on BHS small schools if there is sufficient interest. If you would like to contribute, reply to this message or send a new email with the subject "small schools". Please note! all postings must follow the newsletter policies that are on the website at http://parents.berkeley.edu/FAQ.html#rules In brief: while you are encouraged to give your own opinion, you may not criticize others' opinions in the process. I will have to return any messages that don't conform to the policy. --Ginger Small Schools will Limit Course Availbility -------------------------------------------- To Parents of Teens Newsletter: In light of upcoming meetings to decide whether BUSD will move forward with a proposal to convert Berkeley High School in its entirety to small autonomous schools, we sent the comments below to the Berkeley School Board (BoardofEd [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us). Our biggest concern is that choice of classes would be drastically restricted under the current draft policy, because the small schools would not be required to coordinate their calendars and schedules with each other. -- Juliann & Jamie To: Board of Education, Berkeley Unified School District Dear Members of the School Board, As parents of two students in Berkeley public schools, we believe that the proposal for small autonomous schools (Draft Policy for Berkeley High Small Schools and Berkeley Unified School District, dated November 13, 2001, online: http://berkeleysmallschools.org) is not realistic or desirable. Although we agree that in many ways Berkeley High School is too big, the proposed solution would hinder ongoing efforts to stabilize leadership at the school and adversely restrict academic choice for many students. We feel that problems caused by the large size of the school should be addressed through less drastic measures. ADMINISTRATIVE CONCERNS The draft policy envisions BHS progressing to a complicated, multi-layered administrative infrastructure. This seems unrealistic. Our communication and coordination problems have reached a point where we now risk losing accredition by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. We do not have a fully functioning basic infrastructure, much less a sophisticated one that could handle the proposed changes. ACADEMIC CHOICE PROBLEMS One of Berkeley High School's most attractive features is the wide range of rigorous, academic courses available to all students who can meet the challenge. This is one of the reasons that we chose BHS for our oldest child, who is now a senior. But the draft policy would divide and spread course offerings among 6 to 12 autonomous schools. Therefore, courses currently taught to less than 6 to 12 classes of students per semester -- which includes most of the courses at BHS and probably all of the AP courses -- would probably not be available at every school. Because the schools would not be required to coordinate their calendars and schedules with each other (see pages 7, 10), students could easily be prevented, due to incompatible schedules, from taking courses that are only available at another school. In addition, although the draft policy claims that each small school will be a "school of choice" for students and parents, it says that admissions at each school "must not drain off the most accomplished or most motivated students" (see page 10). This would prevent groups of students who want to take particular AP classes from enrolling in schools that offer those classes. Furthermore, courses currently taught to relatively small numbers of students per semester at BHS, such as AP courses, might have too few students enrolled in individual small schools to survive, and could easily be eliminated. RECOMMENDATION We urge you to reject the draft policy. To give students a sense of belonging, we in the BHS community should explore ways to strengthen the academic counseling services for students and create and institute long-term social structures that encourage students to interact meaningfully with each other and with teachers and staff in smaller groups, without interfering with students' choice of classes. Respectfully, Juliann & Jamie Good experience with CAS ------------------------ My daughter, who did not want to be in a small school but rather be in "the real Berkeley High" is in CAS. She LOVES it!!!! It is not so much what the actual focus of the school is, as it is the enthusiasm of the teachers and the network and comradary that the students develop. They get to know each other, which intern creates a safe place for them to be who they are and share life experiences with each other. The respectful attitude that is expected from them has allowed her and others to discuss and challenge many different subjects. She told me recently that her favorite classes are her CAS classes. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be involved in this program. I only wish that small schools were available when I went to BHS. an appreciative mom Small Schools are Doomed to Failure ------------------------------------- Thank goodness for the insight and intelligence of Richard Ingels and Margie Gurdziel for their thoughtful perspective of small schools. The successful small schools which have been given much publicity are schools in which parents must sign a meaningful contract that their child will perform certain and detailed academic assignments without the blink of an eye. Children are schooled from 8 AM until 5 PM and the school usually runs year round. If a child does not measure up or if the parents are not visible in the schooling of their youngsters, the child is no longer welcome in the school. Such compliance to obedience and rigors is not a part of the Berkeley community attitude, and thus small schools are doomed to failure. There are so many reasons why shaping the high school into a regular academic structured course of study institution should be first on the plate. We have gotten millions of dollars in the 70's to try small schools, that money came from the federal government too. Where are those schools now? They failed and things were much more orderly at that time. It was small schools in the 70's which began the decline of academic caring in the schools. Minority students did not find education there either. Education thinkers come up with all kinds of goodies, e.g. not grading on the curve, grading on the curve, small class sizes, eliminate tracking, small schools, more money (Berkeley gets 20 million dollars more than districts its size), and still things only get worse. No one looks at why the gap grows? They only come up with gimmicks, cute educationese which appears to be a logical answer. No one looks at the countries who are out performing the United States in Math and Science. What are they doing to be successful. For that matter, does any one look at what is being done to make successful students succeed at Berkeley High School or middle school or elementary school? Do they apply the same measure of success in small schools? How is it that the whole world is educated to speak English? Why did I know an old woman who grew up in Waco, Texas, an African American poor farm lady: she attended a one room school house and was taught Latin and Trigonometry. She also spoke elegant English. Her school was small for sure, but it had standards which do not come very easily to youngsters who are failing at Berkeley High. Could it be that people are afraid that they might really learn and out perform their caucasian fellows.? That would upset the whole apple cart wouldn't it? Teachers should teach (I am waiting for that to be an unblinking standard in the schools (not one just for white children) and students should learn. ALL of them. Small schools do not necessarily bring this about. It didn't in the 70's or 80' or 90's and now we are bankrupt and here come the "progressives" to set the system on its feet with a "new" solution. The marketing on the idea is out doing the energy which should be put into the classroom right this minute. Barbara Small Schools should be supported, nourished, and celebrated ---------------------------------------------------------------- I want to take a minute to respond to the charges against Small Schools leveled by Richard Ingels and Margie Gurdziel. There is so much to say that I don't know where to start. But, since they singled out Berkeley High's Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) as an example of a problem created by the schedules of small schools, and, since I am the teacher coordinator of CAS, let me start there. Ingels and Gurdziel tell us that "CAS students were prohibited from taking straight AP Algebra II. They were required to take the Honors option within regular Algebra." The problem here is that they must be repeating a rumor but they certainly can't have their facts straight. For one thing, there is no AP Algebra II and in the following year there is no AP Math Analysis. AP only starts at the level of Calculus and Statistics. The only choices are Algebra II AB (AC21Y) and Honors Algebra II AB (AC25Y). And, yes, we do have sophomores and juniors taking the honors Algebra II. But let's take this as a potential case, as there are sometimes single classes that conflict with locked CAS classes. Let's say there were an AP Algebra II and the CAS curriculum conflicted with that. Well, welcome to the complexities of a master schedule in a factory-model school. You could as well condemn German IV since that class, being a singleton, may conflict with AP Algebra II. Berkeley High has a wonderful, large course catalogue. Ask your students how many classes they actually get to take, how many electives. It's like going into a French restaurant with an 8 page menu - you can only order a few items. We do have conflicts of the locked CAS schedule time and certain classes. If we had an administration that were following through on a coherent policy for small schools, they would do a better job of avoiding these "singleton class" conflicts. What we have now is a factory model school. Built on the paradigm of the 1920's and for a smoke-stack economy, the factory model school suggests that we educate children by giving them a bit of math here, a bit of English there, and they go down the assembly line in little 45 minute segmented classes. And what comes out the other end is supposed to be a completely educated student. But what this leaves out is that every student should be known well and pushed hard to do well. Every student should be able to work in a community of teachers and students to take responsibility for his/her own education. Suggesting that the factory model school is all about choice skews the argument. First of all, high school students are compelled to do things 90% of their day. They have A to G requirements, they have crew or other sports, they have single class conflicts - all kinds of limits on choices. Thematic small schools would allow students to make the most important choice, to choose an engaged, cross-disciplinary course of study which would speak to their passions and interests. Moreover, we have done very little to use the facilities of Berkeley High School creatively. We could have some programs that ran from 7 AM to 1 PM and others from noon to 6 PM. We could have enrichment and AP courses in the regular day and also offered at night. We could have students taking 70% of their courses in small schools and then taking certain electives outside of the small schools (courses that are not bound to any school) or in other small schools (through "passports" between the schools). Or students could be 100% in certain small schools and still take night enrichment classes or community college classes. We need to think outside of the box in imagining how to invent school that works - that engages and inspires students. Here we are in the most exciting cultural and natural location in the country, the San Francisco Bay Area, and I know many seniors who have never even had a field trip outside of the factory in four years. Let's bring a little joy and humanity to this task of educating young people. While I think small schools could preserve many of the interesting electives and allow students to reach the highest academic level they can, we are currently offering a shopping mall (if I may switch the metaphor) of class choices. Our proposal is that students choose from a range of small schools. While these may not have every course choice in each school, it would provide students with a much richer and more engaging experience. Let's give students a chance to become engaged in their own learning, to pursue their learning beyond the boundaries of their small school in space as well as time. Let's help them become life-long learners, which is so important in our rapidly changing world. The appeal of every possible "choice" is not what it is cracked up to be. Aren't students feeling a need for simpler lives, better peer friendships in school, stronger connections with adults, and richer experience? You suggest that the wonderful things about schools that the SEEDS document calls for could just as well be achieved in a large school. Help us, then, to understand why it has never been achieved at Berkeley High. Help us understand why African American and Latino students are failing out in such scandalous numbers. Explain why we are hemorrhaging teachers, losing up to 30% a year, often the young, progressive, inspired teachers who become disgusted with the chaos and dysfunction of the factory school. Let us know how we can keep a principal beyond two years. To propose that Berkeley High work better is a pious hope if you don't give teachers and students the means for success, the kind of organization that would allow us to really engage in education. Yes, it would be lovely to have all of these things, to have teachers working well and have students paying attention, but is there any other proposal for how to move that way? I don't want to hear the drumbeat about "choice" without parents also speaking to what they would suggest for all the ills of the school. Let's face it. We are a school in crisis. We are in one of the finest communities in the country, we are funded by our community, we have incredible students and an awesome staff. We should be a model school for the country, showing how integration and diversity can work. Instead we get a "one year" from WASC and we are ignoring their number one recommendation, to address the achievement gap. I would like to see us break out of the us vs. them mentality that has led to the stalemates in Berkeley's balkanized politics. We do not need to have the "hills parents" holding out against the "flatland parents" - fighting over pieces of the pie. I have children in the Berkeley school system. It breaks my heart to see the racist lessons this system teaches in putting students in the same schools but not giving teachers or students the means for success. Do we want to put up gated communities around our students, have them succeed next to failure for students of color? Is there even success for white students in the context of failure for students of color? It depends on what kind of school society we want our children to live in and what kind of larger society we want them to graduate to. We can decide to be allies of the communities who have not been served by our schools and we will discover, moreover, that all students will be getting a better education. Or if we choose not to be allies, we can only wait to see how long communities of color will put up with paying taxes for schools that fail to educate their children. Will small schools do all these things? I believe they will and the little schools within a school we currently have, while facing many difficulties, show the vast possibilities our school and our wonderful community possesses. Small schools won't automatically usher in all these new changes. But they will create the scale of organization that will help us begin to work on it. Let's talk about the research. We have to start by saying the all research should be taken with a grain of salt. Education is not like physics, the laws are not so fixed. And even in physics there is always debate about the conclusions you reach in research. But the research on small schools is overwhelming, massive, and incontrovertible. I suggest you go to www.smallschoolsworkshop.org to take a look at the main studies and the summary studies. Have we had enough studies, do we need to think about it more? We have been working for this at Berkeley High for ten years. Every year we hear the same thing: not yet, maybe one more year, let's talk about it. That's the Berkeley "drift," the anarchy that will go on and on until someone has the courage to say, yes, let's take the leap, let's dig in and make this work. Or, of course, we could just keep drifting, getting "one's" from WASC, serving in a Darwinian manner a handful of kids who manage to work the system, and demoralizing and breaking hundreds of others. I want to make one final observation. Most BHS staff and BUSD board members in fact seek to put their children in the small schools. They are closer to the school and see what goes on. One of the worst things about doing CAS is the admissions process. We have many more applicants than we can accept. We turn away dozens of students, strong academic students and students with other talents. We would rather have enough options to mean that we would not turn away any. Right now, many other teachers are thinking about starting small schools but they are not about to jump off with new projects if there is not a coherent board policy and administrative support for the venture. Small schools should not be this uphill battle of a few dedicated teachers. They should be institutionalized, supported, nourished, and celebrated. We need small schools that have the necessary autonomies to be successful - they should have autonomy of staffing, curriculum and assessment, governance, space, and time. Small schools also need to be accountable - to the requirements of state standards and school wide expectations. We can do this, we can create a dynamic, exciting, entrepreneurial, and accountable school at Berkeley High. Or we can let the drift continue. The choice is ours. Sincerely, Rick Ayers Small schools will make things better for all of our teens at BHS ------------------------------------------------------------------ I am a European American parent of a sophomore at BHS and an eighth grader at Willard, and have been working with the Community Action Committee for Small Schools, conducting much of the research into other schools around the country that have made the changes we are contemplating. I wanted to respond to the main concerns I hear raised by parents in the community who are wondering if this is a good direction for us to go. BHS is not only a large school of over 3000 students, it also has an incredibly diverse student population racially and economically. It has proven impossible to find a single principal who can manage the school. There have been 5 principals in the last 10 years. Berkeley High has been struggling to maintain its accreditation. The school has been unable to form a unified vision for working on critical problems at the school, particularly the gross underachievement of children of color. Small schools would allow development of a unifying vision and overarching principles while still allowing teachers to innovate within more manageable structures. Berkeley High systems and structures are bureaucratic, ineffective and unwieldy. Small schools provide the opportunity to increase accountability and develop systems that work well for smaller organizations of students. In a large system it is easy for teachers, staff and students to hide if they are not doing what they should. In a small school, where every student9s name is known, and where all the teachers can sit around one table to discuss curriculum, and student issues, accountability becomes more inherent. Small schools don9t stop kids from falling through the cracks, they close the cracks. Approximately 30% of the teaching staff leave the high school each year. They are often the younger, dynamic, and enthusiastic teachers who are burned out from being responsible for teaching an unreasonable number of students (150+), frustrated with their inability to impact students who are struggling, and convinced of the impossibility of significant improvement in the large setting. Students at the most prestigious preparatory schools in the Bay Area attend schools the size of those proposed under Berkeley High's Small Schools proposal. Students who fare well in the large setting, as well as those who feel lost in that setting-all report substantially increased satisfaction with their education in smaller environments where they know their peers, are known by all the teachers of their school, and have a challenging and integrated curriculum. Other than small schools, no other transformative school reform idea has been proposed, to address the long-standing failure of the school to address the gross underachievement of its students. In the class of 2000, 42% of African-American students had a GPA below a 2.0 in their freshman year. In the class of 2004, 52% of African-American students had a GPA below a 2.0 in their freshman year. Piecemeal approaches of tutoring and student support have proven ineffective in impacting what has been allowed to develop into a culture of underachievement. The research is overwhelming and conclusive that smaller schools provide an organizational structure that facilitates improved achievement, greater safety, lower drop out rates, increased parent involvement, and increased student and teacher satisfaction. The large school is touted for the large number of elective choices it offers. Currently, students who want to take the recommended course loads for admission to the University of California, and graduation, must take 220 credits of prescribed courses, and there is very little room in a student9s schedule for elective courses. Integration of curriculum in small schools offers some of the richest opportunities for meaningful enrichment work within the university-bound path. The large school is attractive to some families because of the number of AP courses that are available to students. Small Schools reform at Berkeley High School does not propose to eliminate AP courses nor offer them as the exclusive province of a particular small school that is then inaccessible to some students. The small school model proposed provides the possibility for students to participate in their small school for the bulk of the day, and to take specialized elective or academic courses for part of the day. Common Ground and CAS illustrate these examples: Common Ground offers multiple AP courses within its walls; CAS students have access to AP courses outside of the small school structure. Undoubtedly, the range of choices and combinations of courses currently available to students will be less than exists in the large "shopping mall" type school. However, the gains in depth that can come through learning in personalized, integrated and relevant settings far offset the loss of breadth of choice. Many families value the current BHS system of teacher choice available to 10th-12th grade. This currently allows students to prioritize teacher preference in two subjects. This concept would be maintained in the new small schools, as families would prioritize themes, curriculum, and teaching staff when they selected the small school to which they sought admissions. The size and resulting anonymity, the segregation of a large student body and the inequity represented along lines of segregation creates an unstable and unsafe environment for all students at Berkeley High School. Persistent random acts of violence in our student community of students are unacceptable, and point to the urgency for improving the climate and experience of all students. Small schools have been proven to increase student safety and sense of belonging. As small schools are envisioned at Berkeley High School, each school would occupy a specific area of the school (or choose an off-site location relevant to its theme of study). All students in that school would be known, and intruders would immediately be recognized. I hope that the community will remain open-minded, visit the website where you can get links to further research, and seize the opportunity to make things better for all of our teens at Berkeley High. Sincerely, Kalima
To: Parents of Teens Berkeley High Small Schools Discussions Vol. 2 Dec 3, 2001 This is the second special issue containing discussions about the proposal to convert Berkeley High into small autonomous schools. Contents: - Mixed feelings - BHS Faculty still hasn't had the opportunity to discuss this - Let's get through WASC first - There are still some basic issues that haven't been addressed - Small Schools can close the Achievement Gap - Yes but Who's in Charge? - A Parent's Doubts about "Small Schools" - Current structure is the ultimate system of winners and losers - Draft Policy on Small Schools Doesn't Meet All Families' Needs - Clarifying terminology - New small schools should grow organically, not en masse Mixed feelings ----------------- I have such mixed feelings about the Small Schools initiative. I DO believe that they have a lot to offer, especially if the teachers involved are turned on by the notion. However, I have some major concerns. 1. Moving to the top of my list of concerns has been the implication on the side of the Small School supporters that "if you're not with us you're agin us." I feel that those of us with hesitations or concerns have been labelled "hills parents" (I am not) or worse, racist. We would be good to remember that racism exists on the side of both "black" and "white" and I think we would all be better off to leave the labels at the door and assume the best of everyone! I am assuming that we ALL care deeply about BHS and NOT just for the sake of our own children. The way the discussion has been going I frankly don't feel safe sharing my feelings openly. What kind of example are we setting for our children? We want them to be able to discuss issues, learn to disagree, and to trust that others will respect their contributions and opinions. 2. Being an administrative person for a living I am constantly frustrated by the inadequacies of the administration at BHS. I do not blame the individuals involved for this. I think there is not enough money to hire the administrative help and talent required. Will breaking the school into smaller groups create LESS need for administration? With the budget woes on the horizon for BUSD this will surely not improve! What I have read of the Small Schools research is talking more about truly autonomous schools---each with their own administrative group, no doubt. 3. I think it is inevitable that if small schools are established at BHS there will become a pecking order for the schools. The small schools with the most hard-working/visionary/creative/inspired teachers will attract an equally inspired group of students and their families. What happens to the small school whose leadership falls apart or is hit by crisis? It's too bad that the federal money is "now or never" because I just don't think this is the time. My fear is that this will be one more failure in a string of failures and will not move us forward. Wishing I didn't feel I have to be.... Anonymous BHS Faculty still hasn't had the opportunity to discuss this ------------------------------------------------------------------ I have been following the Parent of Teens discussion over the last few years. The discussion re: the small schools proposal for Berkeley High School again has captured my attention. As interested members of the community and parents of BHS students, do not assume that the staff at Berkeley High School has discussed or supports dividing BHS into 8 - 10 small learning communities as is constantly alluded to. This is not true. We as teachers have been singled out to fill out a survey by an assigned committee member. Students were asked to fill out a survey without knowing what they were doing. PLEASE NOTE: A discussion by the staff on the issue of small learning communities has still not taken place. We have been waiting since the beginning of 2001, and we are still waiting. We had a faculty meeting after school on Wednesday, November 28th to discuss small schools. The meeting was scheduled from 3:45 - 5:00 p.m.. Information and materials was presented to us. At 4:55 p.m., the meeting was opened for faculty comments with limitations of one minute per person. A total of 5 minutes for discussion or questions is certainly not enough time. Research nor WASC indicate that the creation of small schools is a "cure-all" for all the ailments in public education and Berkeley High School. The creation of BHS into small schools is just another Band-Aid. Let's look at the whole picture. Research indicates a COMBINATION of key ingredients for ALL STUDENTS to succeed: It is a combination of a common vision, strong leadership, high expectations, accountability, a highly structured environment, high academic standards, a close monitoring of academic progress, community involvement, and professional development. The search should not be for the one key ingredient. Berkeley High School should focus on the inclusion of all of the essential ingredients for all students to succeed. Sincerely, Joan B. Horikoshi, Social Studies Teacher, Berkeley High School Let's get through WASC first ----------------------------- The issues are very clear, though the priorities of some are very troubling to me. We have a school that doesn't function particularly well for a significant number of students. We also have a school which has serious administrative problems, though some things have improved since Mr Lynch's abrupt departure(kudos to the acting principals). We have a new superintendant of schools, an intelligent thoughtful person, who ought to be given a chance to solve some of the problems. We have WASC breathing down our necks. We have one successful small school run by an extraordinary person. There aren't so many others like him around. I think that more smaller structures and more individual attention would be very helpful to all students and especially kids who are unsuccessful but is this really the time to be pulling out those particular stops? '04 parents are a strong energetic group but attention and energy are being diverted from issues which if they could be improved might then provide a better launch for a differently structured school. It would, I think, be more helpful to the school community to help them get through WASC and put some better administrative structures in place. Instead of having a single(and at this point somewhat divisive issue) be the reason for having a school "hug", I wish we could have a more inclusive event in which the community could wholeheartedly show their support for the school. Sadly we have been placed in a polar "if you are not for us you are against us" situation and that is a huge mistake for the school community which very much needs all our support. Caroline Lehman (O4 parent) There are still some basic issues that haven't been addressed --------------------------------------------------------------- I haven't digested the entire argument for small schools, but I have my doubts about how it would work and why its necessary. It seems that there are some BASIC issues in BHS that have never been addressed (and I've followed BUSD politics for more than 20 years and view with trepidation sending my "needs ALOT of structure" middle schooler to BHS). The STILL open campus, lack of counselors, overly large class sizes, lack of a culture that demands discipline, excellence, and basic courtesy from all, the racial divide, the DIRE need for teachers/counselors and other role models of color (especially male), and a realization that "New Age" education/liberalness just doesn't cut it for the average kid (and believe me I speak from experience as a "survivor" from a couldn't be more 70's public high school where teachers were "facilitors" and students were expected to "follow their instinctive urge to learn") have never been seriously tackled in my opinion. The administrative complexity to develop and maintain the small schools concept seems like it would take away from the basic needs of BHS. For example, would the CLASSROOM adult/student ratio decrease or just the number of kids in each "academy" - how would administration be coordinated? how would counselors, etc. be distributed? Would there be a distribution of adults of color throughout EACH school? Would you end up with segregated mini-schools? How would each school deal with special educ., remedial academic needs, AP needs, and bilingual needs? How would parental involvement be structured - individual mini-school level vs. campus-wide? I would like to see BHS focus on CLOSING THE CAMPUS, increasing teacher/counselor/role model ratio (especially male staff of color), having a hard look at the racial divide, and fostering a culture of expected excellence and discipline for ALL. I've not been convinced that the small schools concept will do any of this. Karen Small Schools can close the Achievement Gap ------------------------------------------------- I am a parent with two children in Berkeley Public Schools, my son is a 6th grader at BAM and my daughter joined BHS as a Freshman in September. I heard about the "cracks" (referring to the disparity of achievement) and the other problems like the violence, lack of consistent administration, teacher turnover, WASC accreditation, etc. However, out of the many problems the school has right now, the alarming rate of our students of color failing concerned me the most. It also concerns me that those with the opinions that BHS should not be changed are not taking into consideration the crisis state our youth of color are in RIGHT NOW! The following are facts and statistics to help illustrate the magnitude of this problem and why it is crucial to change the existing structure now: Students of color at BHS, particularly African-American and Latino students receive grades that are significantly lower as a whole than the grades of White and Asian/Pacific Islander students. In 1996 a team of over thirty teachers, staff, administrators, students, parents, school board members and University of California researchers formed to find out why this was happening and what could be done about it. This team formed the BHS Diversity Project and conducted a four-year study of the class of 2000. The following are some statistics from the report: At Fall 2000, the general breakdown of the student population was: 37% - White 37% - African American 11% - Latino 9% - Asian/Pacific Islander 5% - Multiracial 1% - Filipino Class of 2000 students graduating with a 3.0 or higher Grade Point Average (GPA) 74% - of White students graduated with a 3.0 or higher 70% - of Asian/Pacific Islander students graduated with a 3.0 or higher 28% - of Latino students graduated with a 3.0 or higher 21% - of African American students graduated with a 3.0 or higher By junior and senior years, Class of 2000 African American and Latino students were greatly under-enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes, while White students were greatly over-represented. For example, in AP English classes, 75% of students enrolled were white. Results of the Class of 2004's exit exam: -- The exit exam stat's from the test given in 2001 indicate that 71% of African American Students and 46% of Latino Students did not pass the Mathematics exam in comparison with the 90% of Caucasian Students who did pass; Forty-six percent of African American Students & 38% percent of Latino Students did not pass the English exam in comparison with the 97% of Caucasian Students who did pass the English Exam. As much as we like to believe that Berkeley is different than the rest of America, the well known "cracks" at BHS are turning into a major fault line falling directly into the growing trend of resegregation in public schools. Here are a few identified reasons why this is happening: Institutionalized racism: -- The way schools are structured prohibit communities of color to participate -- Eurocentric curriculum -- The pervasive "whiteness" of the classroom -- Racial and cultural differences of student behavior and participation in class -- Academic intimidation -- Peer pressure Standardized Tests: -- Still show cultural bias by assuming English language usage, proficiency and literacy -- The rise in academic standards now has teachers scrambling to have students pass the tests, focusing on "traditional" educational practices and does away with multicultural issues Economic disparity: -- Studies have shown that students from lower income communities have less access to what it takes for academic achievement, such as personalized attention, guidance and support English language proficiency: -- There are 40 identified language groups represented at BHS and for these students access to quality services and participation in the overall school is prohibitive In addition to these problematic areas are the attacks on our youth: -- The demise of Affirmative Action -- Criminalization and demonization of youth of color has been made a reality in California by the passage of Prop. 21, which does the following to our youth: -- Gives prosecutors (instead of judges) the option to file juvenile cases in adult court, and puts 14 yr. olds into adult prison -- Condemns juveniles to death for certain crimes if gang-related -- Defines a gang as an informal group of three or more people wearing certain clothing, as decided by police (gang-profiling) -- Abolishes confidentiality rules that allow young offenders to go back to school or find jobs without being labeled as criminal Young African American and Latino males are increasingly being incarcerated into prisons and jails whose populations are growing. Between 1983 and 1998 the number of prisoners in the U.S. increased from 650,000 to 1.7 million. About 60% of that number are African Americans and Latinos. More than one-third of all young black men in their 20's are currently in jail, on probation or parole, or awaiting trial. In California, approximately 22,555 African Americans attend a four-year public university, while 44,792 African Americans are in prison, and this figure does not include all the African Americans who are in county jails or the California Youth authority, or those on probation or parole. Nationwide spending for correction facilities has increased over the last decade, while spending on education decreased. In May, 2001 the California Board of Corrections allocated $131 million to build or renovate juvenile jails throughout the state. California schools, once a model, now stands 41st in educational spending nationally. What kind of message is this sending to our children? Does it look like we care that more youth of color are being sent to jail instead of college? If we don't care, why should they? Why Berkeley High's current structure adds to the achievement gap: The Diversity Project's summary states the following: "A primary problem pertaining to student failure and apathy at BHS is the lack of personalized attention, guidance and support for BHS students and results in the "fend for yourself" culture that emerges among students. For the students with few family and community connections to the high school and higher education -- disproportionately immigrant students and students of color-- this problem of a large and impersonal school atmosphere is particularly damaging. This problem not only leads to inequitable levels of student academic achievement and college preparation, but also contributes to the continued marginalization and disengagement of these students." In a day at BHS, an average student will be in classes of approximately 30 students for 7 periods. That is, the student will be in contact with about 210 students a day. In a day at BHS, an average teacher teaches 5 classes of approximately 30 students. That is, the teacher will be in contact with about 150 students a day, will have 150 names to learn, and 150 papers to grade. Each counselor at BHS has a caseload of around 500 students and each student has access to their counselor for approximately 20 minutes per year. How are our children supposed to succeed in the aforementioned conditions? Patches and quick fixes won't change the fundamental problems. These glaring statistics are appalling and clearly show that major change needs to happen at BHS, and after 5 years of research and study, smaller schools that meet the requisites of the WHOLE student population are a feasible part of the solution to these problems. And, the overall success of the smaller learning communities already in existence at BHS as well as the REBOUND program last year demonstrate that they can be a viable structure for addressing the most serious problems at BHS. In a broader perspective: Berkeley High is a reflection of the changing demographics in America. Maps showing "minority" enrollment across the U.S. indicate that the big cities of the South and West have far higher concentrations of non-White students than the rest of the nation. Both of these regions are likely to have White minorities within the next few years. The United States has the most diverse group of students in its history, and all the basic trends indicate the diversity will become even greater. Among our school-age population we are only a generation away before the entire country becomes a majority of non-White or non-European students. If we don't make change in our educational system we will be facing the consequences of very serious ethnic polarization, reinforced by educational equality. It would be a mistake to underestimate the intelligence of our youth. With or without us, our youth are educating themselves and organizing to assert their right to an equal and relevant education. This is not a threat, it's a reality. Just as students led strikes on the campuses and motivated the communities in the 60's and early 70's to demand equal and relevant education, history will repeat itself, but the numbers are greater now. The question is, have we learned anything in the last 30 years? This time, are we going to work with them, or let history repeat itself? Smaller schools is not the total solution, it is only part of the process of change if our vision is to build BHS into a multicultural, anti-racist, pro-justice school where ALL students can have equal access to academic achievement. It means working together, building partnerships between the school, curriculum depts., teachers/union, parent/student groups and the community. And in return we will be affecting the larger society to manifest these same values through the future leaders and contributors to society, graduating from BHS into the world. Yours truly, Miyoko A parent in the Berkeley parent coalition for equity and excellence in our schools Yes but Who's in Charge? ------------------------ I agree that BHS has become so large that it is hard to manage. It makes sense to talk about breaking BHS into smaller more manageable administrative pieces. But the idea of suddenly reverting to this new model scares me. I am very worried about how the plan will actually be implemented and who will guide it through. Such a dramatic change at our very large high school is going to take strong, committed leadership to bring it off, and I don't see where that's coming from. Who's in charge? There is no one in the driver's seat. No principal currently, a past history of rapid principal turnover, and a slate of School Board Directors who are strangely silent whenever a difficult issue needs their attention. The impression I get is they are unresponsive to crises, unsupportive of the principals, and apparently unable to provide any leadership. The new superintendant on the other hand seems to have a firm grip, and I was impressed by her response to the principal's departure and the WASC crisis. She seems like a person who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. But it is unrealistic to expect her to lead up such a radical change in her first year on the job. Any big change like this is bound to create a multitude of new problems, and there are already so many old problems that still need to be dealt with. Let's stop and take a deep breath and figure out how to do this in a more realistic and more gradual way. C. S. BHS Parent A Parent's Doubts about "Small Schools" ---------------------------------------- I was shocked to learn at the November 7th forum that the Small Schools advocates expect Berkeley High to be completely divided into "Small Schools." In addition to the present five or so optional small schools, about 15 more would be created. All faculty and all students would be required to choose one. A high school of "small schools?" My heart says "yes." But my head says many "nos." SMALL SCHOOLS WILL MULTIPLY THE COMPLEXITY OF THE HIGH SCHOOL. The school's present problems, I believe, have to do with too much autonomy, too little consensus among staff, and absence of standards. "Small schools" will relieve the staff of the need to agree. THE RATE OF CHANGE AT THE HIGH SCHOOL IS ALREADY A BIG PROBLEM. Not only does it make the place impossible to administer and stressful for everyone, it also relieves the staff of ever needing to agree. "Don't deal with an issue; something else will take top priority next year." I think the high school has been running like this for a long time. SMALL SCHOOLS CREATED BY BUREAUCRATIC FIAT WILL NOT EQUAL THE PRESENT ONES. Each of the present small schools is invigorated by a zealous individual fired with mission. The current small schools are "cool" partly because they're an alternative to the mainstream. When every student is in a "small school", they lose that distinction. SMALL SCHOOLS WILL ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY. Like the current ones have, small schools seek almost total responsibility for student's high school education. Yet the leaders of the respective small schools are not answerable to the state; the high school's administrators, the BUSD Superintendent and the school board are. INCREASED ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF NEEDED. Even if the small school leaders and administrators can agree about oversight, it is not clear how it could happen without more administrators. The small schools advocates claim to have addressed this; I claim that the problem has been grossly underestimated. Even the current small schools extend beyond supervison. THERE WILL BE "WINNERS" AND "LOSERS" AMOUNG THE SMALL SCHOOLS. Much time at future board meetings will be spent troubleshooting the respective small schools, like the administration sometimes has to do for our K-5's. The District will debate how to improve the poor performers, and how to keep them from racial segregation. Of course, this unevenness favors families who are good at "gaming" such situations; they will get a good deal and be very happy. WE WILL LOSE CHOICE WHICH WE NOW HAVE AT B.H.S. The choice among small schools we will exchange for our current exceptional range of choice of course, program and teacher. Within a small school students have little choice. In our current ones students are pre-assigned sections. Student have little elective, PE, science or language choice. The "choice" among small schools will fall short of the dream, because the popular ones will be over-subscribed. AMONG THE SPONSORSHIP I SEE SOME NARROW AGENDAS. This "reform" is not advocated by the District, but neither is it a "grass roots" movement. Its support is an articulate, zealous coalition representing diverse agendas. The agendas I see are narrower than my own. WE MUST WAIT SEVERAL YEARS TO ASSESS OUTCOME. The small schools "solution" entails a long timeframe. To elect it is to start a clock that must run for several years. Once begun, doubters will be told, "give it 'til year 200X before you judge". Many of us won't still be around. Over time, the charge, vision and commitment must be passed intact from team to succeeding team. This is hard to do. WILL IT IMPROVE STUDENT PERFORMANCE? We are entitled to our opinions. There is no way of knowing without trying this very costly and risky experiment. Will it improve student COMFORT at the high school? Probably yes - at least for students in the "cool" schools. Will it erode the means of MEASURING relative student performance? Definitely yes. When I read threats to "go charter and leave", as Small School leaders have declared to the press, I'm not hearing rhetoric about putting students' interests first. This is carving the high school into "fiefs", beyond administrative control. Let's not do this! Sincerely, Bruce, BHS parent Current structure is the ultimate system of winners and losers --------------------------------------------------------------- It is a truism that at Berkeley High School the motivated, self-directed student can have a great experience but other students often fall through the cracks. But why is this so, and what exactly does this mean? Berkeley High School is organized by function or department. That is, the organization is constructed around the work of the adults. For example, the Math department will work to produce a better curriculum that is aligned with state standards, select textbooks, and improve teaching strategies. If the department is cohesive and has good, strong leadership, the department may also succeed in creating a sense of teacher belonging and improving morale. Department heads meet on a regular basis to share information, and this information is then filtered down through departments. This is a perfectly valid way of structuring any organization. The strengths of this system are the flexibility that it allows individual students to construct their own education. Students can pick and choose among courses and teachers, and individualize their course of study. The disadvantage is that if the system is complex and bureaucratic, as it is at BHS, if it does not have very strong connecting mechanisms (counseling, communication, and information systems), and BHS does not, and if there is not a clear sense of shared purpose, like at BHS, students will need to bring significant outside resources with them to be successful. Students will need to have a particular set of organizational and motivational skills, parents with the time, experience and willingness to serve as a personal advocate and guide, and/or strong peer and personal information networks in order to participate properly in the offerings of the school. In effect, the system strongly rewards those students who enter well prepared and who have strong external supports. Students who do not have these assets are heavily penalized. For the entering 9th grade student who will be very successful at BHS, many will attempt to enroll in a small learning community, make sure they try out for a sports team, or participate in a music program. In this way, students will find a social group to belong to, and in the case of the Small Learning Community, have some teacher guarantees. They and their parents, will figure out how to arrange their 4 years of high school so that they can meet their graduation and college requirements, snag the perfect class combinations, and leave a little room for exciting electives. By the time these students are entering 10th grade they will learn the fine points of the teacher choice system, and figure out how to pick and choose their way around the undesirable teachers. Also by 10th grade, many of these students will have distinguished themselves enough to be segregated into classes for higher performing students with smaller class sizes, fewer disruptions, and more experienced teachers. They will be enrolled in specialized courses such as double period science classes, second language courses, and honors math classes. As they continue up the pyramid of success at BHS, they will find that they are in effect in a small school, comprised predominantly of white, high performing students. When people say that the thing they like about BHS is that you can get a private school education at a public school, this is what they mean. The entering 9th graders who are least successful at BHS enter en masse to Berkeley High School, and they are told "Go!" With two freshman counselors and about 900 students, the counseling department is unable to provide remotely adequate counseling services to students. Students with the most fragile academic skills end up enrolled in the wrong courses, in insufficient courses, and/or in irrelevant or undesired courses. Many students will finally get their schedules finalized several days into the semester, and join classes after the critical first few days. These students will likely not participate in any organized extracurricular activity that provides them with a positive niche to help the transition to high school. Students not assigned to classes with old friends may feel they need to cut class in order to achieve social contact with people they know. These trysts can quickly become habit, and students start missing significant academic content. By the end of the first semester these students will have accumulated many failing grades that will require that they repeat classes, or that will consign them to struggling for the next 3 -1/2 years to obtain enough credits to achieve graduation. In the 10th grade these students will begin repeating classes with students who have similar profiles. A relatively small number will even complete their teacher selection forms. The elective offerings available to these students will become slim as the realities of failure set in. Students perceiving their failure and their second class status look to construct alternative systems of success and identity outside of the classroom. When the numbers of these students are very large within any particular peer group, norms of underachievement set in, and a culture that is hard to permeate becomes established. Whether through the free-add electives, the double period science classes, the number of specialty elective classes taken, the experience and cost of the teachers teaching the higher end academic courses, the smaller class sizes encountered by students at the top end of the school, or other factors, in 4 years at BHS, a struggling student who makes it to graduation will have had way less financial resources expended on their education than a very successful student. This is inequity in terms of inputs. More than 50% of the African-American 9th grade students in the Class of 904 completed their freshman year with below a 2.0, a failing average. Less than 10% of Caucasian 9th grade students in the Class of 904 completed their freshman year with below a 2.0. Less than 10% of the African-American 9th grade students in the Class of 904 completed their freshman year with a GPA above 3.5. More than 50% of 9th grade students in the Class of 904 completed their freshman year with a GPA above 3.5. This is inequity in terms of outputs. The Berkeley Unified School District is comprised of approximately 37% African-American students, 32% white students, 14% Latino students, 8% Asian students, and 9% all other ethnic groups. The School Board has 0% African-American board members, the senior district staff (Superintendent and heads of departments) has 0% African-American staff. The Berkeley High senior administration (principals, and vice principals) has 0% African-Americans. This represents inequity in terms of formal power. Let us be honest, this community has been able to excuse the underachievement of children of color, because of the strong association of poverty with these communities, and the deeply held belief that closing the "achievement gap" is simply utopian. The inequities that are built into the structures and systems of the high school go unnamed. They are permitted to remain, are in fact defended, because the expectations for children of color are extraordinarily low. This is not unique to Berkeley, it is simply what it means to be black in America. Still, after all these years. The way Berkeley High School is currently structured creates the ultimate system of winners and losers. When you are used to a winner/loser construct, and you are winning, you are probably quite content to stick with that system. In fact, you would probably fight to retain that system because change might mean you are going to lose something. Even if you are just entering the system, you might be able to assess your chances of winning, and the rewards of winning (prestigious college acceptance) and feel very comfortable with things the way they are. The problem with this is that the costs (to us all) of having a system where we have some who are winning so much and others who are losing so much, are huge. We were supposed to have learned that lesson already. Does it have to come crashing in on us for us to actually recognize some of that cost? When our children go to school with other children who beat them up for no reason, or worse, when our children go to school and beat up other children for no reason, do we realize that something is seriously wrong? Do we identify the perpetrators as soulless children? Do we try to identify where they lost their souls and why, or do we just act to eliminate them, to clamp down on discipline, to hire more security guards? Is it even normal to have our children going to schools with security guards? Small schools is not a progressive idea, nor a radical idea, nor a traditional idea. It is not a panacea or a magic bullet. It is simply a way of organizing schools around students rather than subjects. In a small school, the strong and the weak students would be well known. The good and the bad teachers would be well known. The problems would be out on in the light of day, where we could actually try to solve them, and the scale and number of small schools would give us opportunities to really try a variety of approaches. The way things are is not OK. We need to act. Please come to the Community Action for Small Schools on Saturday, December 1st from noon - 3 pm to show your support for transforming Berkeley High School into small schools, where all students can have a more personalized, engaging and quality education.. Also, visit the Berkeley Small Schools website at http://berkeleysmallschools.org to continue the discussion about Small Schools on a dynamic action forum. Katrina Draft Policy on Small Schools Doesn't Meet All Families' Needs --------------------------------------------------------------- I wanted to clarify that in our letter to the Berkeley School Board, which was posted in the 11/22/01 Parents of Teens Newsletter, we commented specifically on the draft policy dated November 13, 2001. The draft policy is not written in a way that accounts for all families' needs. It represents a significant net loss for families who place the most weight and value on the range of currently available courses at Berkeley High School -- because: (1) it forces accomplished and motivated students to be split up into separate schools (those students would not have the same choice as other students); (2) it divvies up teachers and classes into separate schools; (3) it expressly allows schools to have distinct, autonomous, and uncoordinated calendars and schedules; (4) it aims to reduce student load per teacher, without guarantee of funds to hire more teachers. This is not "hills parents" holding out against "flatland parents" mentality. Nor is this a lesson about racism. There are families who do not live in the hills and/or who are not 100 percent Caucasian who benefit from the wide range of academic courses at BHS. We are one of them. In principle, small schools could work at BHS, but the draft policy of Nov. 13, 2001, has many problems. Overhaul of the educational system at BHS needs to take into consideration everyone's needs, not some families' needs at the expense of others. I also think that in any proposal for small schools to be voted on by the School Board, concrete details should be included. For example, Rick Ayers' posting, which discusses the possibility of offering classes from 7am to 1pm, 12 noon to 6pm, and also at night, should be fleshed out in further detail. (I'm not convinced that students, parents, teachers, and staff would favor having classes 'round the clock.) In the meantime, why not explore strengthening the counseling services at BHS? There are too few counselors for the numbers of students. Parents have been known to accompany their children in person to ensure that counselors will even see the child briefly to make necessary schedule changes, much less offer real, proactive counseling. Better counseling services would help all students across the board. --Juliann Clarifying terminology ------------------------------ Dear Parents of Teens, We'd like to clarify our earlier note on Small Schools. Far from leveling charges against the CAS program and repeating rumors, our comments on AP Algebra and scheduling were based on first-hand experience. But our comments were communicated with terminology that was not precisely correct. In our earlier note we obviously used the wrong terminology for Honors Algebra II (refering to it, incorrectly, as AP Algebra II). If we offended anyone by this mistake, we appologize. Last summer Margie responded to a request to help code for teacher choice. On the evening that Margie arrived to help code teacher choice, students had already been assigned to their classes. The only thing volunteer parents were able to do was enter teacher preferences. During the coding process, questions arose when CAS students had requested Honors Algebra II teachers but were assigned to regular Algebra II . On that evening, volunteer parents were told that Mr. Ayers wanted the CAS students to be together and that if any student wanted Honors Algebra, then they had to take the Honors Option within regular Algebra II. We do not know what instructions were given on other nights. No reference was made to CAS single classes being given preference to math classes. We would also say that we respect Rick Ayers' energy and committment to small schools. His frustration with the status quo is eloquently and passionately communicated in his letter. Sincerely, Richard & Margie New small schools should grow organically, not en masse -------------------------------------------------------- Dear Parents, Students, Teachers & Staff of Berkeley High, Although the idea of converting dear old lumbering Berkeley High "en mass" into Small Schools, where each of our children would be "known well and pushed hard," is extremely tempting, I have much trepidation about it. I feel about it much as I did about the old Gilbert & Sullivan program at Malcolm X. A marvelous program, wonderful for the kids enrolled, full of energy & compelling reasons for kids (& their parents) to feel connected to school, and to give their all to it. The effects of such a program endure, remaining the strongest positive memories a student carries into adulthood. What's not to like? But wait a minute---these wonderful programs are started by visionary, brilliant teachers, who attract super-committed and involved families and their children. Yes, the enrollment crosses ethnic and class boundaries (which is great), but one common factor of those involved is their high level of energy and commitment to their kids' education. This is a self-selected group, of both families and teachers, who combine to make the programs extraordinary. But can this be replicated throughout the school, with "ordinary" families and teachers? I very much doubt it. As we well know, BHS has its share of "so-so" teachers, not very inspired, and definitely not equipped to carry the mantle of a new Small School. Likewise, there are plenty of parents who are" maxed out" as things are, and probably wouldn't be the mainstay of involvement that Small Schools require to thrive. For this reason I believe that we should go slow. Let an additional Small School or two grow organically, the brain-child of visionary teachers, supported by committed parents and students who are attracted to that special vision. But don't try to force the model on the whole school at once. That would be a recipe for failure, something Berkeley High just doesn't deserve right now. Let's put some of this "fix-it" energy into creating a workable administrative model where teachers are evaluated regularly, good ones praised to the heavens, weak ones nurtured and empowered, and bad ones shown the door. Let's attract a visionary principal who can lead the whole school, not leaving anyone out. If we can do that, we can make Berkeley High a Large School that everyone, parents, teachers, students, and staff, will flock to and love. --Anonymous
I have been following the Small Schools issue and appreciate the space Parents of Teens has provided to the discussion. I tried to sign up for the Small Schools email list a while back and was unsuccessful. I think I may be on the list now, but either there is not much activity on it or else I am still not on it. Can someone please provide the email list information and web site for all of us who want to be informed? Is the Small Schools proposal for Berkeley HIgh posted on a web site somewhere? Can it be posted if it is not? Is the small schools email list an appropriate place to continue discussions about the pros and cons of the small schools concept? I personally like having the Parents of Teeens covering this issue, but it may become burdonsome to the moderators to continue to do this. Lissa Miner -------- I saw in a previous edition the link to sign up to be on the Small Schools discussion list. I think a more helpful link for your subscribers would be the Action Forum that allows for much more engaging discussion, and where people can contribute their perspectives without having to sign up to receive a lot of mail they might not want. The address for the Small Schools Action Forum is http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?forum_id=209 I would greatly appreciate it if you would announce this forum in the next edition of your newsletter, and perhaps encourage others who submit additional comments to you, to post them on this site. Currently all the comments on the site are generally favorable to Small Schools because it is a new site, but all perspectives are welcome. Thanks, Katrina Scott-George Topic: Student opinion about small schools proposal I've been a science teacher at BHS for 15 years. I left last year to work at Albany High, a small school (about 800 students) in a small, fairly cohesive and close-knit community. I'm back at BHS this year for rather complex reasons that don't relate to the small schools issue. I believe Albany High helped students who were not high academic achievers much better than BHS does. High achievers get a good education there, too, though not as rich and varied as that at BHS (the science classes are not as rich, there are fewer advanced language opportunities, etc.). In part, the superior help for lower achieving students comes from the smaller school size. For instance, students who pose behavioral problems get more consistent, coordinated feedback from adults and they don't "slip through the cracks" because the adults are watching them more closely and talking to each other about them. (I am aware that I'm making some rather simplistic remarks about the very complex issue of student motivation, so please don't take my remarks about student discipline as an indication that I am only interested in discipline.) I held a small-schools discussion recently with my Chemistry 1 class at BHS. When my students heard my perspective ( it's easier for teachers to improve discipline and correct poor student behavior like cutting, etc.), they were apalled. They relish the relative freedom from coordinated adult control that they get at BHS. In a straw vote about their preferences at the end of the discussion, only two of 32 students definitely liked the small schools porposal. Three or four were unsure, and all the rest were against the proposal. Here is a summary of their comments as filtered through my memory: They see the large size of BHS as a strength: You can find your own "niche" at BHS. There are no dominant cliques like there are at small schools. There are so many different kinds of students that you can find friends. BHS has lots of course choices as a result of its large size. They raised lots of reasons why the small schools proposal is flawed: -The best teachers would gravitate toward the best small schools and the best students would follow them. We would end up with more, not less, academic segregation. -The current small schools give opportunities for students who want them. Imposing small schools on the entire student body would eliminate their choice to stay with the larger structure. -If they split the school up it would be like "my old small school" and teachers would talk to each other about you. Your reputation as a student would precede you and the teachers would pre-judge you based on comments from other teachers and past experience. If you did poorly last year and you have the same teachers again, it's harder to redeem yourself. (I was surprised to learn that at least half my students have had teachers who they think "did not like" them. Several of the students were afraid that they'd end up stuck with teachers who do not like them or who pre-judge them.) -You'll have to choose a small school and I don't know what I want to do. If students in college don't know what they want to do, how do you expect us to know? Also, what if you don't get into the small school you want? My students also had several comments about the need to fix the current system: -BHS certainly doesn't work well for some students. There is a need for improvements. -It's a good idea to have some adult to talk to: let's get more counselors. -Teachers should make it their business to get to know who you are. -BHS keeps trying new things and then dropping them. For instance, CORE probably would have worked if the theachers actually talked to each other, but core was dropped (I think core just is in the 9th grade. This students thinks it was dropped.) -Work on other things before they change the rules and impose small schools on us: fix the administration, fix the bathrooms, do all the small things that would make student life easier. -Concentrate on getting organized before you make wholesale changes. Finally, a word about who these students are: Chemistry 1 is a college prep class that requires you to have had good grades in math. The students in the class are mostly successful in school, though many would not describe themselves as being excellent in science. They clearly think that the current big school has good attributes as well as bad. They most definitely do not want to have a small-schools proposal forced on them. They were glad to hear that I would try to post their comments on the web, since they feel that not many people are asking them what they think about it. As you can see from my introductory paragraphs about Albany High, I myself see the good side of small schools; and I also consider the achievement gap to be a national tragedy and scandal. In spite of my desire to see change and my own positive experience at a small school, I am leaning toward voting against the small schools proposal in the teacher referendum that is planned. I hope that the proponents of small schools will not consider teachers like me to be against change or against fixing the achievement gap if we vote against the proposal. steve brand
Vicki Bonnell's statement at December 5 School Board meeting:
I speak as parent, teacher (25 years UCB faculty), longtime Berkeley resident. Point 1: A relatively small and more personalized learning environment can be beneficial for some students, but other students flourish in large eclectic learning environments (at the university level, this is the difference between UC Santa Cruz with its college system and UC Berkeley). I have taught on both campuses and I can attest to the fact that one size does not fit all students. Why should we settle for an "either/or" situation at BHS? The optimal situation, I would argue, is one in which students who want to swim in a small pond can do so but those who like rivers or even oceans have that option as well. Point 2: Real question is not whether small schools are beneficial but WHAT KIND of small schools will enhance the educational experience for all students at BHS. We already have a number of small schools, with considerable variations among them. I want to emphasize that current and future small schools at BHS should be: 1) optional not mandatory for teachers and students 2) self-selective (initiated by teachers and students) not imposed 3) created WITHIN and not INSTEAD of the comprehensive school 4) they should be accountable to the BHS principal, the School Board and the Superintendent and not autonomous with respect to budget, curriculum, instruction, assessment 5) they should challenge students academically and not subordinate instructional opportunities to artificial quotas based on demographics Point 3: I support the draft proposal of the School Board on Small Schools. It takes a middle ground; it charts a moderate and constructive course. It does not embrace sweeping and potentially disruptive proposals for structural change in a school that, with all its problems, still does a pretty good job of educating most students and placing them in quality colleges and universities. After all, BHS is magnet for students in other districts who transfer in droves to Berkeley High for the superior quality education. Here's what I like about the approach in this draft: 1) BHS students will have a choice between small schools and a comprehensive school and they can combine the best elements of both, if they wish 2) The draft establishes specific procedures for evaluating proposals for establishing new small schools and evaluating their performance 3) The draft emphasizes inclusiveness and diversity in small schools 4) Small schools at BHS will henceforth be subject to supervision and review by the Shared Governance team, principal, School Board, Superintendent To convert BHS entirely into a multiplicity of small schools will jeopardize the rich and varied BHS curriculum (an exceptional and precious aspect of the school) and it may Balkanize Berleley High, pitting small schools against each other in a struggle for students and for funds. At a time of diminishing sources of support for education, we should not fragment our resources. BHS has many problems to deal with (summarized ably in a recent communication by Michelle Lawrence). Let us address those issues rather than focus on risky schemes for major reorganization.