Berkeley Schools Leave Every Child Behind

Steven Davidoff Solomon:

My family has been forced into a social experiment. One of our daughters is in second grade at a private religious school. Her twin sister, who has special needs, attends a public school. Can you guess which one went online immediately?

You no doubt guessed right. Almost all Bay Area private schools went online within two days of the March 17 lockdown. One daughter has a full day of school, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., including physical education and art. The other daughter’s public school initially gave us a list of things to do—mostly a list of websites, including GoNoodle (which is excellent for getting kids to jump up and down).

It’s not mainly a problem of resources. The private school went online in two days with Zoom. I’m teaching all my law-school classes online. New York, the country’s biggest school system, is going online. Why not Berkeley? One teacher wrote a parent I know that Berkeley isn’t moving online “because of equity issues.” Ann Marie Callegari, the district’s supervisor of family engagement and equity, confirmed that in an email to me: “The answer to your question of course is Yes! There are existing inequities in our educational system and right here in Berkeley that will only be exacerbated by going fully online.”

When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before:

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.