Critical Voices in School Reform: Students Living through Change

By Beth C. Rubin; Elena M. Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

The color line in student achievement

How can small learning communities make a difference?

Jean Yonemura Wing

If I wouldn't have joined the Technology Academy 1 when I did, I probably would have dropped out by now. Yeah, the way I was headed, I would have probably dropped out in my tenth grade year. 2 Yeah, I just didn't want to come. The classes were, like, oversized. I had, like, one class had 35 kids in it and I had - most of them were sitting on top of things like this [a ledge]. There weren't that many desks or chairs.

… It [Technology Academy] has helped me with future plans, because now I understand why I like computers so much, because I like to work on them, or around them, use them, stuff like that. And this will help me in my future, because most of the things that are going on now are going to be done by computers… .

(Robert, interview, 05/26/99)

Robert is an African American student who graduated in the Class of 2000 at Berkeley High School - a large, racially diverse high school 3 plagued by a persistent achievement gap that breaks down along racial and socioeconomic class lines. So glaring is this gap that Berkeley High has been described as "two schools under one roof" - one school whose SAT scores consistently exceed state and national averages 4 and whose predominantly white, middle-class graduates attend the nation's top universities, 5 and another school in which African American and Latino students are disproportionately represented among those receiving Ds and Fs or listed on the suspension rolls, 6 or are at risk of not graduating. Meanwhile, most teachers in this school of 3,200 see 150-175 students a day, with a typical class size of 32+, and each academic counselor serves a caseload of more than 550 students. Thus, Robert's reflections on the Technology Academy, one of several small learning communities 7 within Berkeley High School, illustrate the potential of such small schools programs 8 to support better academic outcomes and corresponding life chances for those students least well served by the traditional, factory-model or "shopping mall" high school 9 (Powell et al., 1985).

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