This week, while I was at church, I heard the most disturbing bit of news from our pastor about Berkeley High (at one time called the most integrated high school in America): that Berkeley High, the school right down the street from my alma mater, only has one black student taking an AP class. Out of a school population of about 3,300 that is 31 percent black, this can’t be true, I thought to myself.
It immediately made me think of my own experience in high school where, like many other black students throughout this country, I felt like I was the only black student taking any advanced courses. Thinking back on it now, I don’t remember any of my AP classes having another black student in them. So it’s no surprise that Berkeley High is supposedly experiencing the same phenomenon.
But then I ran across this:
Calling the racial achievement gap ‘the most important educational challenge for the United States,’ a 1999 national study by the College Board found only 17 percent of black and 24 percent of Latino high school seniors to be proficient in reading, 4 percent of black students to be proficient in both math and science and no black students and 1 percent of Latinos to be advanced in those subjects.
This comes from a 2001 story from Salon.com that focused on an ambitious program at Berkeley High started by Parents of Children of African Descent, otherwise known as PCAD, which was singlehandedly trying to close the “achievement gap” between white students and students of color at the school. But just when you thought the last statement was bad, the story brings up this appalling point, which is relevant to today’s discussion:
Remedies recommended by the [College Board] read much like PCAD’s (and every parent’s) wish list: making schools smaller, lowering student-teacher ratios, spending staff development money to provide students with better-educated teachers and offering students an academically challenging curriculum.
Many of these remedies have been adopted by the one American school system in which the achievement gap has been addressed with some success: the U.S. military’s. In the 71 schools operated on domestic military bases, 26 percent of black children and 32 percent of Hispanics scored at or above passing level, compared with 7 percent and 10 percent, respectively, nationally.
How does the military succeed where civilian schools fail? One factor is money. Base schools spend 23 percent more per pupil than public schools, fund music and art programs and are well-endowed with computers. Another is parent involvement — a key element of the PCAD approach.
So after being completely shocked after hearing about the one black student at Berkeley High taking AP classes and after being reminded of why that black student is all alone through this Salon.com story, the only thing I can truly do is call upon the oh so eloquent words of our brother Marvin and ask Berkeley, ask California, ask America: What’s going on!