Nearly 12 years ago, an array of Berkeley organizations, including the mayor’s office, Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), Berkeley City College, and the University of California, Berkeley, agreed to work towards an ambitious goal; completely eliminating the racial gap in educational outcomes. At the time, a clear pattern emerged in sets of BUSD educational data regarding attendance rates, math proficiency, college readiness, and reading ability. The data showed that white students perform best, followed by Latinx students, followed by Black students. To eliminate this disparity, the 2020 Vision plan was created to focus on six areas: family and community engagement, kindergarten readiness, improved attendance and health, third grade reading proficiency, eighth grade math proficiency, and college/career readiness. The plan aimed to eliminate the racial gaps in all of these areas by the time the class of 2020 graduates.
Of course, the gaps remain. Racial disparities are still present in BUSD. 2020 Vision has approached only some of its goals. Over the past 12 years, kindergarten readiness, attendance and health, and third grade reading proficiency have improved for all racial groups, and the largest gains have been experienced by Black and Latinx students. However, this has not been enough to completely close the racial gap. Unfortunately, in eighth grade math proficiency almost no progress has been made over 12 years. While Latinx students have made mild progress in college/career readiness, the Vision 2020 report found readiness actually slightly decreasing for Black students.
In addition, 2020 Vision has not acted sufficiently on improving family and community engagement. While other focus areas have pages of explicitly set plans and metrics, family and community engagement still have not been formally defined by 2020 Vision after 12 years of work.
Most of what has been accomplished is more public relations maneuvering than real change. For example, the official 2020 Vision report given to the city council cites the “Faces of Berkeley’s 2020 Vision” program, which profiles people who have benefited from 2020 Vision as a major success in this area. This could be used to raise awareness and approval of 2020 Vision itself, but it doesn’t actually help reduce the racial achievement gap. With some exceptions, most family and community engagement programs in this category are working to make the 2020 Vision plan look good instead of working to reduce racial inequality in education.
This is especially problematic because of the importance of family and community engagement in the education process. If students are not being academically supported at home, it’s often extremely difficult for them to succeed in school. Low-income families, which are predominantly Black or Latinx, often have less access to resources to support their children’s education. While family engagement can be difficult to measure or affect, that doesn’t mean it’s not an integral part of closing the achievement gap. 2020 Vision has no excuse to neglect it.
Setting unreachable goals like completely ending the racial education gap isn’t inherently a bad thing. Even if a goal isn’t reached, it can still raise expectations and standards of the community and push policymakers to work harder. However, 2020 Vision has not had much success in that area, since it engendered very few tangible results which can be traced back to the various efforts of the program. 2020 Vision may have usefully organized previously decentralized forces against educational racism, but the evidence shows it didn’t do so nearly as much as is needed.
When I began my research, I expected to write about how 2020 Vision, while not reaching its lofty goals, has done much good. However, as I researched it, I grew more skeptical. Although some improvements have occurred since 2020 Vision was announced, we can’t know for sure that any improvement happened as a direct result of 2020 Vision. In many areas, the racial gap did not even begin to close. The organized efforts of 2020 Vision have failed to address some of the most crucial goals it set. While it’s impossible to know what BUSD schools would look like without the Vision 2020 plan, it’s hard to imagine it would be much different from the deeply flawed education system we see today.