La Shawn Barber

On international science tests, American students perpetually lag behind their peers in other developed countries. A logical response might be to beef up science programs in government schools, but logic is hard to come by in skin-deep-only-diversity-obsessed bureaucracies.

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One school seeks to do the opposite, and for the most insulting of reasons. Berkeley High's School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students, proposes to eliminate before- and after-school science labs at Berkeley High School (BHS) and divert resources to narrowing the intractable racial academic achievement gap. According to the East Bay Express, an alternate parent representative on the council said "information presented at council meetings suggests that the science labs were largely classes for white students," although black students take science classes. One teacher said she has 12 black male students in her Advanced Placement classes, and black and Hispanic students account for a third of her four environmental science classes.

BHS purportedly has the widest racial academic achievement gap in California, which the council deemed "unconscionable." Depriving students of science lab instruction because the labs benefit mostly white students apparently isn't unconscionable.

"The labs help the struggling students most," physics teacher Matt McHugh told the Berkeley Daily Planet, "because they're the ones who need the most help."

For those who frequently blog and write about racial preferences and lowered standards for blacks, this isn't surprising or shocking. Bureaucrats are embarrassed that blacks lag behind their peers, so taxpayers fork over millions to try to achieve the unattainable goal of equal outcomes.

Berkeley High's plan apparently was surprising and shocking to tech blogger and Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson. Author of The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More and Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Anderson mentioned the story on Twitter, and other bloggers picked it up.

"I'm not necessarily opposed to race-based proposals," Anderson told me via e-mail. "I just think the premise of this one—'science is for white people'--is absurd and deeply counterproductive."

TechDirt blogger Mike Masnick saw Anderson's tweet. "It seems like there must be more to this story than what's being reported," Masnick wrote. "The concept of cutting science labs because more white students take them just seems too preposterous to make sense."

Unfortunately, there isn't more to the story, and yes, cutting programs because they benefit white students is preposterous and doesn't make sense. But that's what misguided social engineers do.

The school board will discuss the plan at its January 13 meeting. In the meantime, parents and guardians of BHS students are asked to sign a petition opposing the plan:

"The elimination of these labs would reduce instructional time by more than 21% (30% in AP classes). Such devastating cuts would force science teachers to eliminate many of the labs that enrich the experience for students by having them 'do science.' These cuts would result in the reduction in coverage of the state standards and the inability to effectively use instructional strategies that support student learning. This flies in the face of the current push for equity and the 2020 Vision. To close the achievement gap, students require more instruction, not less; more time with qualified instructors, not less."

Is the proposed elimination of the labs per se the problem, or the reason behind the proposal? No matter how much money the government spends trying to close the achievement gap, individuals will never, ever, perform equally, nor will outcomes between racial groups reach parity. Individuals have varying levels of interest, aptitude, motivation, and determination.

Bureaucrats need to get over the "unconscionable" gap, keep expectations high for all students, and stop defining achievement down.


La Shawn Barber

Freelance writer La Shawn Barber blogs at the American Civil Rights Institute blog.