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.

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Lowering the standards by which kids are measured doesn't help them in the long run, even if small schools teachers think it's a great way to boost their self-esteem (and perhaps get them into college) in the short run. For one thing, they aren't really learning the material. "This year, I had a small schools girl who's a senior," said Kavaler. "I looked at her transcript. She's in AP calculus, she's getting an A. But she can't solve 2x + 5 = 20. She couldn't solve for x. Yet she's getting an A in AP calculus." She continued: "The small schools are saying, 'Look at us, we're so great. Look at our students, they've got such good GPAs.' But their GPAs aren't reflective of what they can do. ... They're grade inflating, and they send these kids out into the real world and then they have GPAs that are way inflated, and then they're getting into places like Cal and they're getting slammed."

And finally there's the issue of race, and whether or not small schools are actually redressing social problems or just making them worse. Berkeley's small schools movement was well-intentioned at its genesis, and the goal of academic parity is honorable. But at this point, small schools reformers are using race in an opportunistic way. Perhaps some of them genuinely believe that African-American and Latino students are better served if you put them in a segregated system, give them an unconventional curriculum, inflate their grades, and then lie to them about how well they're doing. But with so many stakeholders involved, it may get harder for Berkeley to extricate itself from a system that appears not to be working. The supporters of small schools want to meet their equity goals so their programs look viable. Principal Slemp wants to keep his reputation as a reformer. BayCES wants to keep Berkley High on the reform track so it can keep its organization in business. Evidence suggests that the improvements to date are dubious, at best. If New York University professor Pedro Noguera were to come back to Berkeley High and conduct another Diversity Project, he'd get the same results today.

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