Berkeley High plan would eliminate science labs

January 4, 2010 5:31:19 PM PST
Teachers in the East Bay are fighting a proposal to get rid of separate science labs at Berkeley High School in the name of racial diversity. It is part of a plan to redirect money to programs that would help struggling students at the school.

"We need to do the labs. They're part of our curriculum and they're part of our mandate," one teacher told ABC7.

Berkeley High science teachers are banding together to oppose a plan that could eliminate the labs they teach before and after school.

"Our students who are struggling need that extra instructional time, especially if we're going to prepare students for the jobs of the future," science teacher Amy Hansen said.

The proposal to eliminate as many as five science teachers and incorporate the required labs into the regular teaching day came from the Berkeley High Governance Council. The council is a group of teachers, parents and administrators charged with finding ways to reduce the achievement gap at Berkeley High.

"When broken down in racial terms, African American and Latino students are not scoring as well as their peers," explained Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett.

According to the 2009 California Standardized Test, 76 percent of Berkeley High's white 11th graders tested proficient in English, compared with 22 percent of Hispanic students and 16 percent of African Americans. In math, 53 percent of whites were proficient, while only 18 percent of Hispanics and 5 percent of African Americans.

Some argue that the science labs benefit white students over those of color.

"The majority of students of color don't really go. It's not that they don't care, but maybe there's a problem getting there," said student Chanel Bates.

"To require students to come to school before or after school, as part of your required courses during school, just doesn't seem very equitable to many of us," Huyett said.

"Why would you teach the same amount of material in less time and think that that was going to help anybody?" asked parent Peggy Scott.

Junior Kacey Holt thinks there is a sure way students can help close the gap.

"I think they need to talk with their teachers and get more tutoring, after school programs, and basically show up for class," he said.

The Berkeley school board will consider the science lab plan later this month.