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A Learning Environment for Minority Students

September 08, 2002

Your illuminating feature on Berkeley High School did indeed document the very difficult problems inherent in attempting to raise minority scores to the levels of those of Anglo and Asian students ("Top-Notch School Fails to Close 'Achievement Gap,' " Sept. 4). That's the bad news. But an equally strong and positive message is given only passing mention in the middle of the article--the success story that 55% of black seniors at Berkeley qualify for the UC system, compared with 26% statewide. And, similarly, 50% of Berkeley Latinos, compared, again, with 22% statewide. That's astounding! It certainly validates the efforts of minority East Bay families to get their children enrolled at Berkeley High. Yet this achievement is virtually lost in the article's focus on the ethnic gap.

Credit should be given for Berkeley's efforts, which created a rising tide elevating the minority boats to twice the level found in California high schools generally. Yes, it lifted the Anglo and Asian boats much higher, and that represents a challenge worthy of sustained attention. But the gap isn't the whole story and should not diminish the achievement noted.

Wes McDaniel

Lake Arrowhead

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By the time students reach high school it's too late to address the disparity in achievement among students. The deficits that disadvantaged students bring to the classroom cannot be corrected in four years. Teachers are not miracle workers. Early intervention beginning in pre-kindergarten can help, but nothing can take the place of a home where parents are involved in and knowledgeable about their children's education.

Unfortunately, too many students at Berkeley High and elsewhere come from backgrounds devoid of this support. Teachers must then spend a disproportionate amount of time on nonacademic matters. It's a question of educational triage, and it's practiced on a daily basis in schools serving poor and minority students.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles

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Your article further highlights the importance of the commitment of the home in the education of children. Too often have I encountered students whose homes not only do not contain a dictionary or a quiet place for homework but whose parents are unable to assist in basic math or interpreting simple written instructions. If there is to be any progress in closing this tragic socioeconomic education gap, at-risk students must be identified by the first grade.

Both during-and after-school centers are vitally needed to provide these youngsters with nearly one-on-one assistance in developing basic skills and completing homework assignments. This, of course, is a surrogate for what normally takes place in the homes of reasonably educated parents. Much of this effort could be accomplished by volunteers as well as high school students who are completing community service requirements. Expecting any high school to repair eight or nine prior years of failure is flagrantly unrealistic.

Don Malvin

Canoga Park

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