Tag Archives: educational privilege

Separate and Unequal: Berkeley High

I’ve long had reservations about Berkeley High and the way its small schools function to divide students academically, which unintentionally tends to lead to further divisions along social and racial lines.  Earlier today I was talking to another teacher about how I’m working to address the achievement gap in my classroom, and happened to bring up my criticisms of Berkeley High.  After our talk I ran out to grab a coffee and what was the first thing I saw on the table at the coffee shop?  This week’s East Bay Express with the glaring headline on the cover:

Separate and Unequal at Berkeley’s Small Schools

Berkeley High embraced the small schools movement to close its staggering racial achievement gap. But evidence suggests that these schools are exacerbating the very problem they were supposed to solve.

Click here to read the full text of the article.  

At first I was excited to read the article–finally an indictment of the segregation at Berkeley High!  But, like so many in Berkeley, and I’m afraid so many powerful white teachers and parents, author Rachel Swan got the story all wrong.

Swan’s initial skepticism of the small schools movement is not unfounded.  Small schools, like their larger counterparts, are not without fallible teachers and administrators, or moments of pedagogy that miss the mark.  But Swan appears to view the issue similarly to the teachers at BHS who rail against the small schools.  

I’ve selected some of Swan’s own reporting to articulate what I see at Berkeley High, as a teacher, scholar, observer of BHS classrooms, opposer of segregation, holder of almost unattainably high expectations of all students, local resident, relative of a BHS student, and friend of many BHS alumni. 

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Required Reading: Follow Up

The speech went over pretty well.  None of my students seemed overly enthused about taking home a copy of the Anyon piece, but who can blame them?  High school is hard and they have enough homework as it is.  But the results were evident in today’s class, which was probably one of the best we’ve had together.  For their exit task, I asked each student to write down one thing she or he did well as a student on the front of an index card, and then write down one thing one thing I did well as a teacher on the back.  Here are some responses: 

What students did well:

Today I supported my group members.

I focused on all my work.

I was supportive and cooperative.

I gave effort.

I participated a lot.

I focused and I tried my best.

I listened carefully.

What I did well in the students’ words [it’s important to recognize small victories, especially as a public school teacher]:

You were understanding.

You carefully listened to everyone.

As a teacher, it’s good that you push us.

You made a passionate argument.

You did a good job talking to us instead of just yelling like other teachers would have.

You connected to us.  Empathized in a way.

And in conclusion…an entirely different take on the stuff and substance of high school.

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