|Berkeley Parents Network|
|Home||Members||Post a Msg||Reviews||Advice||Subscribe||Help/FAQ||What's New|
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
BHS Small Schools Discussion Nov 22, 2001
To: Parents of TeensThese discussions are from the Parents of Teens newsletter
Berkeley High Small Schools Discussions 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 to firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Ogle 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@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 ---------------------------------------------------------------------
|Home | Post a Message | Subscribe | Help | Search | Contact Us|