New programs set sights on closing racial achievement gap

This fall, the Berkeley Unified School District will launch new programs in its schools as part of 2020 Vision, an effort to close the district’s racial achievement gap.

The programs aim to improve kindergarten readiness, third grade reading proficiency and overall attendance — three of the eight improvement areas identified by 2020 Vision — as part of an attempt to prepare students early on for later academic success.

Whereas the district’s statewide test scores increased overall, the district’s achievement gap between white students and their black and Latino counterparts still exists, and is frequently called one of the worst in the state.

The Berkeley City Council and the district’s Board of Education adopted 2020 Vision in June 2008 with the goal of closing the achievement gap in public schools by 2020. More than three years later, Berkeley officials maintain that strides have been made by the initiative and change is coming.

Julie Sinai, chief of staff to the Mayor Tom Bates, said that in the past few years, the goal has been to analyze and collect data over various sources to better identify the needs of students.

“What’s the data we really want to measure — do we have baseline data, or do we need to create it?” Sinai said.

Sinai said that this month, district kindergarteners will take a universal assessment, which will inform teachers how they can be more effective in the classroom, as well as provide a baseline for the percentage of kindergarteners ready for school.

According to this year’s data from the California Department of Education, white students in the district scored more than 250 points higher than black students — an Academic Performance Index score of 908 points versus 643 points, respectively. The district’s Latino students scored 744.

Paco Furlan, principal of Rosa Parks Elementary, said that many times, it is not an achievement gap but an “opportunity gap,” where certain students benefit from certain advantages, during the summer and after school, that others cannot afford.

Students in the district identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged were 711 this year, lower than the state target of 800.

“You absolutely have to believe that every kid can learn and provide opportunities for that kid to learn,” Furlan said. “No matter where they come from … you have to meet them where they are.”

A newcomer who assumed the role of principal in 2010, Furlan saw extraordinary test score growth at the elementary school, which met both of its state standards this year. The school saw the most growth in math and science scores.

Based on 2020 Vision’s identified problem areas, he budgeted and made funding decisions accordingly, Furlan said.

District superintendent Bill Huyett said though the district can intervene at the high school level, he agrees that academic achievement must be targeted from the lower grades up.

With new programs looking to improve reading abilities amongst elementary school students on the horizon, the district is optimistic that 2020 Vision will achieve its goals.

“It’s not like a train that runs down the tracks and keeps going,” Sinai said. “It’s going to be an ongoing effort to refine and readjust and take what works and move it forward.”

Weiru Fang covers local schools.

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  • Guest

    When there is a significant IQ gap between the children of UC professors and other Berkeley professionals, most of whom are white, and the children of predominantly black and latino working class children, a significant percentage  of whom reside in Oakland and Richmond and should not even be enrolled in Berkeley Public Schools, then of course there is a difference in levels of achievement. The black and latino children are overachieving by any measure except expecting them to have the same level of achievement as the children of  Berkeley Professors. The predominantly white children of professors are achieving at a high level but are underachieving.    The issue is that the achievement of each group is not measured against its  potential denoted by the average IQ of each group. The achievement gap is prevalent among the higher IQ students of whatever race or ethnicity, where the average student would have a higher level of achievement if  he  received the scarce and valuable educational  resources being over allocated to lower achieving students  of whatever race or ethnicity to try and assure  an equality of outcome.

  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Spending all the money and dedicating all the resources in the world won’t narrow the “education gap” between one group and another, if the group in question places no value or education in the first place.

  • Guest

    The context is too narrow.  The achievement gap in Berkeley schools simply reflects the achievement gap in the City of Berkeley’s population.

  • Guest

    “You absolutely have to believe that every kid can learn”
    Naturally, but they can’t all learn at the same level.  Very few Cal professors are black, and not many are Hispanic.  Their children inherit a high IQ and grow up in an environment where learning is valued.  Of course there’s going to be a gap!  And that’s not to mention crack babies, fetal alcohol syndrome, nicotine poisoning, malnutrition and a host of other problems that drag some children down.  It would be utterly astonishing if Berkeley didn’t have a big achievement gap.

  • Guest

    Surely these things have been tried half a dozen times already.  Why did they fail before, and why should they succeed now?