Letter to the Editor: Economic Disparity Feeds Education Gap

Letter to the Editor

I am very encouraged by the number of excellent articles and opinion pieces in the Jacket this year, which have questioned the status quo at BHS! In particular, as a math teacher, I applaud “BHS Math Must Support Black Students” (Holden Elias, 2/11/22). Elias presents data showing that in BUSD, Black students are far behind white students as early as second grade. Elias goes on to say that for reasons of equity, Advanced Math, at least in 9th grade, must be eliminated. The Math Department is nearly unanimous in agreement, and although we were very disappointed by the Board’s recent decision to keep it going, we have not given up the fight!

The only way in which this article falls short is that like the vast majority of similar articles deploring educational inequality, it implies that the enormously unequal outcomes are the fault of the public school system, and that resources exist whereby equal opportunity could be achieved. In fact, for at least a couple decades we have known that the terrible economic inequality in this county (especially dramatic in Berkeley) is by far the largest factor in unequal educational outcomes. Kids coming from families with more money have better health care, better homes in better neighborhoods, better technology, better access to extracurriculars, access to private tutors, more family members with a good knowledge of math, etc. 

Furthermore, poverty and the stress it puts on families actually inhibits the development of executive function in a young child, the foundation for good student skills. The gap Elias describes at second grade – that gap is already huge when children enter kindergarten. When we ignore or deny the impact of socioeconomic inequality, when we only blame public schools, we effectively ensure that the axiom of corporate profits over people will not be challenged, and we thereby doom an ever-increasing proportion of children to a lack of opportunity. This was Dr. King’s conclusion in his final years, when he called for the eradication of poverty as the primary goal for the civil rights movement. 

I hope that in the near future, students and staff can come together to protest economic inequality which damages us all.

 – Dan Plonsey, BHS math teacher