AS IS TRUE in too many school districts throughout the state, Berkeley High School has a wide achievement gap between black and white students. Only 30.8 percent of black students are proficient in English and 31.3 percent in math. Just over 90 percent of white students are proficient in English and 87.1 percent in math.
This disparity has existed for decades, which is why Berkeley voters approved a parcel tax in the 1980s to raise money for schools and reduce the achievement gap.
About two-thirds of the funds go toward reduced class sizes. Most of the remaining money is used for science and arts programs and tutoring. Unfortunately, the additional spending has done little to reduce the achievement disparity.
To remedy the situation, Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp and the school governance council thought it would be a good idea to take parcel tax money away from advanced science labs used in AP classes and somehow use it for undefined "equity grants."
After considerable protest, a new proposal has been advanced that would eliminate labs for college preparatory classes and divert the money to some program to help struggling students.
A better proposal would be to drop any plans for undermining science education, whether it be AP classes or regular college prep courses.
It makes no sense to harm good students who need robust science classes in high school to qualify for college,
There is no good argument for trying to close an achievement gap by reducing the quality of education for those at or near the top of the academic standings. That is especially true when there has been no determination as to how the redirected money would be used.
If the two-thirds of the parcel tax money that went toward reduced class sizes has done little to elevate poorly performing students, perhaps that program needs to be examined and replaced with something that could be more effective.
There also must be greater encouragement for nonwhite students to take science courses, which now are filled with predominantly white students at Berkeley High.
Another proposal that is expected to be advanced soon is for a charter school that after three years would serve 700 students. The school would draw underperforming students to a participatory technology-rich environment.
That proposal deserves some careful exploration, but weakening the science curriculum does not.
We are, indeed, sympathetic to the difficulty of tackling this problem and agree wholeheartedly that it must be addressed in some meaningful way. However, the likely impact of taking money from science classes and redistributing to some undefined program to aid struggling students is a weaker science program and negligible improvement for anyone.
The school governance council and school board must take another look at how the two-thirds of the parcel tax designated for lower-achieving students is spent. In the meantime, they should drop any plans to undermine essential classes for college-bound students at Berkeley High.