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A SWAT for making school budget cuts a race issue

Submitted by on Thursday, 14 January 2010 No Comment

I don’t know Paul Gibson from Adam. I have no idea if he’s white, black, green or purple. I don’t know if he’s liberal or conservative.

But I do know that if his take on a proposal to eliminate extra science labs at Berkeley High School and redirect the money to help remedial students is accurate, the entire committee that came up with the plan needs to be dumped.

Gibson told the East Bay Express that the committee’s decision was pretty much unanimous and based on information it received that the labs were largely for white students. The assertion is so unbelievable on its face that it’s stunning no one challenged it.

It’s not that the decision is necessarily a ridiculous one. It’s just that the reasoning Gibson said was behind it was steeped in racial politics that are stirring emotions at a time when cooler heads are needed to make tough decisions.

There’s no denying the Berkeley High is a troubled, troubled school – that’s nothing new. There’s no disputing that there are achievement gaps among the races at Berkeley – and the worse news is that with the exception of Latinos, all ethnic groups have shown declines in recent years.

When you look a little deeper, though, the lab decision isn’t a loony as those on the far right, ever on the lookout for “liberal racism,” are trying to make it appear.

The five science labs currently are offered during “period 0″ and “period 7,” which are before- and after-school classes that are supposed to be electives. Except the labs are supposed to be mandatory.There’s an apparent contradiction there from the start.

The problem is, some students simply cut class because they don’t see it as part of the school day, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. As a result, they flunk the science course. Incorporating the lab into the regular class would solve that problem, one science teacher told The Chronicle.

The flip side of that is the value of the extra instruction, particularly to advanced students. “If you take away those labs, you’re saying the same amount of material has to be covered in (less) time” in the regular class, one parent told the Chronicle.

It’s a dilemma as old as No Child Left Behind, which marked its eighth anniversary this month, and Berkeley isn’t the first school to be accused of slighting advanced students in the NCLB era. And in an era of budget cuts, being able to redirect money from five teaching positions is a sadly attractive proposition.

The real tragedy here is that, instead of being able to have a rational discussion about science labs, the issue has devolved into one largely of race. As if black students won’t lose out on opportunities as well if the labs are eliminated. As if there are no white students who are struggling.

Folks, Stop Wasting America’s Time by making a tough budget decision – the same type of decisions being made in schools across the country – all about race. There’s more to it than that.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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