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Nothing innovative about dumbing down curriculum to close racial achievement gap

LatinaLista — There has always been talk of redesigning the high school curriculum to help close the achievement gap that persists between Anglo students and Latino and black students.


Yet Berkeley High School is doing something that, while it is meant to have good intentions behind it, amounts to nothing more than dumbing down the curriculum for the very students who need the classroom guidance to open up their segregated worlds.

It seems Berkeley High School is doing away with its school’s science labs and the five science teachers that teach them.


The reason given is “to free up more resources to help struggling students.” It was realized that at the high school white students routinely outperform the state average but Latino and black students perform worse.

One way to fix this disparity, according to school officials, is to do away with the science labs because, as of now, only white students take those classes. The ironic factor in this scenario is that, aside from the horrified science teachers, everyone is in agreement that this is the right thing to do.

The simple truth is — it’s not.


The elimination of the science labs falls under what is known as the High School Redesign — a plan to close the racial achievement gap by altering the structure of the high school.

It’s admirable that the school wants to refocus the resources used for those science labs to help the struggling Latino, black and low-income students but there has to be a better way than cheating those deserving white students and few minority students who are taking those labs, and planning on those credits to help with their college admissions.

If this is a definition of high school redesign, it fails miserably.

The reason is simple, there’s nothing innovative or different about developing resources that try to elevate interest in students who gave up long ago on the idea that school had any meaning for them.

Rather, what would be innovative, is to redefine science class for struggling students to get them to the point that they could eventually become students in those labs.


Science and math have long been seen as the “dry” classes. If a student didn’t arrive at high school already with an interest in biology or astronomy or physics or chemistry or math, there was no way they would sign up for those classes voluntarily. If they’re struggling in academics, forget it entirely.

If a school was fortunate enough to have an educator that went beyond the call of duty to make science relevant to students, those students were lucky, but too many times the really good teachers teach mostly those students who already excel in the subject — and the struggling students are left out in the cold again.

As our world progresses, science is the one key that doesn’t just open up the future but unlocks the past and it’s a subject that has the potential to stir imaginations. The trouble with too many struggling students is that they have limited imaginations or have given up on trying to imagine anything at all.

A redesigned high school curriculum doesn’t eliminate one set of classes to refocus strategies on helping struggling students — that’s boring!

A redesigned high school curriculum recreates how those classes are taught — totally.

With new science discoveries being made daily and the Internet putting us in immediate contact with the scientists, the inventors and the modern-day explorers, there’s no excuse to not make science relevant, exciting and inspiring for all students.

Why can’t high school science classes be taught with a mix of history and current events culminating each week with an online connection from one of today’s science trailblazers?

For those students who can’t make the connection with today’s science, break down the major science disciplines into three-five weeks of intense mini sessions and incorporate a variety of elements to teach it: history, current discoveries, pop culture (media/movies), online contact with someone doing something notable in the field and bringing in (physically or via online video) different professionals making a living in that discipline, along with, what jobs are available in that field.

If classes like these are started in junior high then by the time so-called struggling students reach their junior and senior years in high school, they might just not be struggling anymore.

In fact, their only struggle might be which science to pursue.

Now, that’s redefining high school!



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  • Bryan J.
    January 5, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Wow, this has to be one of the most regressive progressive thing I have seen in a while.
    On the bright side,Marisa, your idea on how to improve the situation(closing the gap between underachieving minority students and whites) is refreshing and might actually work. Maybe you should apply to be the principal at Berkeley high school!

  • A.N.
    January 5, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I agree with a lot of you GREAT comments.
    Having taught for years in the inner city, though, it’s just a HARD job — plain and simple.
    Think of it this way: Democrats and Republicans often fight and counter each other down the line on approach, spending, priorities — right?
    Well, in education it’s Teachers VS. Administrators — often two different animals altogether, with one beholden to their teaching ideals and the other bucking for promotion to District Superintendent.
    Hey, that’s the reality on the ground.
    Add to this manic and over-protective parents who want their little Johnny or Jenny to be president of the United States, and it get’s even more complicated.
    Now — in comes the working-class Latino or Black kid….
    Dude — if they’re not interested, or chatting away in the back of the classroom, I’m sorry…. I’m REALLY sorry, but the REALITY is they’re gonna get overlooked. Hey, I’ve seen it at least a couple of hundred thousand times already, and I don’t want to see it anymore. It really hurts me, because I was once a kid JUST LIKE THAT.
    I had to pull MYSELF out of that lethargy. It was hard.
    The BIG, HUGE trouble here — that no one seems to be interested in addressing, though, is that the MAJORITY of teachers who teach these working-class kids are middle to upper-middle class Anglo women who –bless their heart — just have NO IDEA what they’re dealing with. I’ve seen that a couple of hundred thousand times already as well.
    And in Berkeley — I’m sure this upper middle-class teacher/working-class student dynamic is operating thick and gooey.
    Just my two cents…

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