un-level playing field
- Subject: un-level playing field
- From: Peter Farruggio <pfarr@UCLINK4.BERKELEY.EDU>
- Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2000 08:26:26 -0700
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- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
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From today's Oakland Tribune. Another example of what the real problem is
in public education, and how the "accountability" movement is little more
than a diversion to cover up the shirking of accountability by public
officials for refusing to invest the amounts of money needed by urban
schools to give working class kids a chance. My kids went through the
Oakland high schools, and when they DID have textbooks (not always), they
could never take them home to study because of scarcity. The beginning
band's instruments were stolen from the music lockers (cheap locks) this
year at my daughter's high school, and that was the end of music class
because they can't afford to carry insurance and can't replace the
instruments. Etc, etc.
(in the Local section)
Learning quality worries students
By William Brand
OAKLAND U NIVERSITY OF Cal ifornia Regent Ward Connerly's
"level playing field" is hard to see from the crowded
hallways of Castlemont
High School at 8601 MacArthur Blvd. in East Oakland.
Ask Banea Sumpter, a 17year-old senior, born and reared
She graduates this Thursday with a 3.3 grade point
average, 12th in her
class of more than 200. Sumpter was one of eight
sen iors admitted to the UC system this year.
"When I was in the 9th and 10th grade, people would say, 'Castlemont is the
best school around,' "
"Then I visited Logan High in Union City and I saw the courses they offered
students and the fa cilities they had. I realized
that the environment at Castlemont is not the best for teaching a stu dent
to actually compete with others."
Castlemont's enrollment is 63 percent African Amer ican, 28 percent Latino;
5 percent Asian and 0.7 per cent white. A
high percentage of students come from poverty backgrounds. And when it
comes to academic preparation for college --
Castlemont, although im proving, often falls short.
The best example, she says, is her high school's "Ad vanced Placement"
classes. College level AP classes are a staple at
most suburban high schools. They're de signed to boost student grade point
averages and help them prepare for college.
So when Castlemont added AP classes, Sumpter signed on. But almost
immediately there were prob lems.
The U.S. history course was shabby, she said. "The first year, we never got
our textbooks. So when it came time to take
the final, I didn't take it. I knew I wasn't ready.
"We had an AP history course all right. It had a title. But it didn't have
the content," she said.
"I agree that everyone should be equal in every as pect and you shouldn't
be judged by the color of your skin," Sumpter
said. "But your surroundings, your en vironment, should be equal."
She shook her head slowly. "Here, they aren't."
Castlemont's valedictorian, Xiao (Tony) Fu, 19, and Honor Society member
Alma Janett Ortiz, 18, agree.
"In one AP chemistry class, we didn't have a book," Fu said. "Forty
students signed up. I was the only stu dent who
passed. But I came here from Canton, China at 16 and my math and science
background was strong."
"Last year Tony and I were in AP history," Ortiz said. "We didn't pass --
the books were late; the teacher tried to do the
best she could, but with no books and no proper explanations, how could you
But they did. Fu graduated with a 3.98 average, Ortiz with a 3.0. Fu is
headed to UC Berkeley and will major in computer
science. He's one of four Castle mont students accepted into Berkeley.
Ortiz turned down UC Davis and is headed for San Jose State, where she'll
major in international busi ness.
Sumpter also will walk out of graduation exercises Thursday at Kaiser
Convention Center with a bright fu ture. She's
headed for Cal State Long Beach, to major in business technology with 10
separate scholarships, each paying part of the
cost of her first year's educa tion.
"I have friends at other high schools who had the books and I used theirs,"
"You go to the library, you borrow books," Ortiz said. "Yes, it makes me
mad to have to do that, but --" she shrugged.
"You have to."
These kids are going to make it, says Castlemont counselor Johnny Burks.
"Castlemont has fine-tuned them. If they can
survive here, they can survive any where, in any environment."
"Ward Connerly's philosophy about level playing fields is as flawed as Ray
Charles playing center field in Yankee
Stadium," Burks said.
"The real base for competition starts in the home, getting the
encouragement, the quiet space to study, to polish skills,
getting the nurturing," he said.
"A lot of our kids come from broken homes, single parent homes, troubled
homes where life is chaotic. Sometimes for our
kids, school is the only stable envi ronment, the only place where they can
go and get some semblance of order.
"These kids are caught between a rock and a hard place," Burks said. "They
have to care for little brothers and sisters.
When they need to go to the library, they're coping with survival issues
All three honor students said they had strong sup port at home and made the
best of it at school. Fu and Ortiz will be the
first to attend college in their families. Sumpter has a sister, who made
it through college first.
"Just looking around my community, it needs people with a college
education," Sumpter said. The al ternative's not very
good, she said. "Without education, you may end up at McDonalds for the
rest of your life."
Fu and Ortiz also said they benefited greatly from UC Berkeley outreach
programs. They are part of a vast expenditure of
time, money and student and fac ulty volunteers hours that began expanding
at the time the regents scrapped affirmative
action in 1995.
It worked for Fu, Ortiz and Sumpter.
Fu participated in MESA, a math program and Sci ence Academy. Ortiz
participated in Upward Bound, which included a
six-week stay on the UC Berkeley campus in the summer, and counseling and
Those programs from the university are wonderful, Burks said.
This is not a school where everyone is focussed on grades and college, he
"Many of our kids are interested in getting into mainstream society, into
the working class and making their way. We've got
a great auto mechanics shop and there's nothing wrong with being a mechanic
or a bus driver. They're good jobs."
"But smart kids are my dream. The hardest thing is encouraging them to
apply for college their senior year. There are so
many bright kids who would really qualify, but they just don't apply.
"I'm for everyone being equal, but to put kids on a level playing field
without skills, just isn't fair," Burks said.
Burks wins backing from Professor Albert Cama rillo, director of Stanford
University's Center for Com parative Studies in
Race and Ethnicity. There's no level playing field out there, he says.
That's not to say that if affirmative action prefer ences still existed,
everything would be fixed. Race pref erences were
really just a band aid, covering a deeper problem, he believes. Although
outside California public universities it's the best
The University of California's plan to spend $250 million in the next year
for tutoring, aid and outreach programs in the
public schools is the right idea, Cama rillo said.
"But I pose this question, 'Should the University of California be doing
this, or should the state of Cali fornia Department of
Education be putting its vast re sources into leveling the playing field?'
"We have to take a hard look at our future," Cama rillo says. "There are
large and growing sectors of our society where
people are marginal and race is a factor. What do you do when half of a
high school's students do not graduate?" he asks.
"What happens to those kids?
"Here in California, we are experiencing the future now. It's time to do
something," he said.
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