It’s time to bridge the gap: BHS and local government must collaborate to close the opportunity gap

According to a study from Stanford University, Berkeley Unified School District has had one of the worst opportunity gaps, sometimes known as an achievement gap, in the nation since it was integrated in 1968. While this is not what many would expect, as Berkeley has a set reputation for being committed to social justice, it is a trend that has persisted for almost 60 years and has become a pressing matter for the district. For this gap to be closed for good, schools and governments need to collaborate in addressing the factors that contribute to California’s extreme opportunity gap.

When BUSD was originally integrated, it was part of an effort to extend equal opportunities to all students regardless of race. However, race and many other factors still affect students’ test scores and other achievements today. This is because as of now, the government has not collaborated with the school district to fix the gap once and for all. However, this doesn’t mean that the district has given up – in fact, it means the opposite. Originally, BUSD thought that integrating schools would be enough to fix the opportunity gap. Once that proved false, plans changed.

In an effort to finally end the opportunity gap, the district has tried many things. The communities created by small schools, Universal Ninth Grade, the campaign to raise attendance, and even the City of Berkeley’s 2020 Vision have all been part of a larger effort to decrease inequality within the city’s education system. Yet, despite all of these efforts, the gap persists. It even increased in the time between 2009 and 2016, with a difference of five grade levels between the reading and math scores of white and Black students in Berkeley in 2016.

Even though these attempts haven’t had the impact they were meant to, BUSD’s efforts have still helped improve and shrink the gap. For instance, in 2019, only 27 percent of Black students met the state reading standards, but in 2022 that number rose to 30 percent. While this doesn’t seem like a large difference, it’s a huge improvement from the early 2000s, when 70 percent of Berkeley’s Black students were in the lowest 25 percent nationwide.

Despite this, it seems as if none of the district’s attempts at fixing the situation have had the desired result. This may be because, according to the Vermont State Board of Education, two-thirds of the differences in standardized test scores are caused by factors outside of school. 

While schools still need to keep working towards closing the opportunity gap, it’s also vital to recognize that the problem doesn’t stem only from school. As such, school districts are unable to fully close the opportunity gap because they don’t have control over all of the factors at play. 

For the gap to be closed and kept closed, the government must get involved and support school districts in creating equal opportunities for all students. While there have been some attempts at closing the opportunity gap from the California state government, like the allotment of money from the Local Control Financing Formula (LCFF) for improving the education of kids deemed to be at a disadvantage, none have succeeded. According to graphs created by the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, there hasn’t been a large change in the statewide opportunity gap despite the large amount of funding given to schools by the LCFF. According to certain civil rights and school reform groups, this is because they believe the extra money was used for purposes other than the intended ones, and the government put no measures in place to protect the funding and ensure it went to the right place. In fact, the LCFF contains many loopholes that allow schools to avoid spending the money on its intended purposes, like one that allows unspent LCFF money to be carried into the next fiscal year and spent with no restrictions.

To effectively address the opportunity gap, Berkeley High must work with local governments in order to address the factors that contribute to California’s extreme opportunity gap. By addressing the root causes of this opportunity gap, it is possible to create equal opportunities for all students regardless of race or background. Only once this has been done can we close the opportunity gap once and for all, and achieve a more equitable education system.