The 2020 Vision was launched a decade ago to eliminate educational disparities in Berkeley. Photo: Courtesy Jezra Thompson

It has been 10 years since institutions in Berkeley joined forces to craft the 2020 Vision, an all-hands effort to eliminate serious educational disparities between racial groups in the city.

A new detailed report, presented at a special City Council session Tuesday, showed the project has not come anywhere close to achieving the ambitious goal of totally abolishing the “achievement gap” or “opportunity gap” for the class graduating Berkeley High in 2020. But the data showed that gaps have significantly narrowed in some areas since the initiative launched, and more kids are coming to kindergarten ready to learn.

“Clearly we have more work to do,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the meeting. “This is great improvement…[but] we know these really deep-rooted inequities are going to take time to address.” 

The mood in the packed council chambers was celebratory, though, with representatives from the central 2020 Vision partners — the city, Berkeley Unified School District, UC Berkeley and Berkeley City College — acknowledging a decade of work that saw the creation and expansion of numerous programs as varied as trauma-informed care for toddlers and community college scholarships.

The 2020 Vision was created in 2008 by the city, in partnership with BUSD, and through advocacy by the Parents of Children of African Descent group, the Latinos Unidos Para Nuestros Adolescentes program and others. Most of the 2020 Vision funding comes from the city — $1.8 million is dedicated to programs working toward these goals in Berkeley’s current budget — though many BUSD programs could be considered connected to the initiative. Other institutions and philanthropies have contributed money too.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín presents 2020 Vision awards to BUSD students (from left) Camila, Noelia and Nizam. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

More children ready for kindergarten, reading better

The 2020 Vision is meant to be a “cradle-to-career” effort, making available resources and interventions for Berkeley’s children during critical points in their development and schooling. The project came out of a recognition that although Berkeley’s schools are integrated, race and ethnicity are still predictors for academic success. The 2020 Vision leaders established goals for educational equity — from all children reading at grade level to all teenagers graduating high school ready for college or a career — and selected a set of “indicators” to track progress toward achieving each goal.

The first set of data examined demonstrated that the youngest children entering elementary school can count and identify the sounds letters make, a gauge for “kindergarten readiness.”

By those measures, incoming kindergarteners of all races significantly improved between the 2012-13 and 2017-18 school years, according to the report. For example, just 34% of black students met the letter identification standards in 2012-13, compared to 74% last year. For Latinos, the growth was even greater, from 32% meeting the standards to 77%. Initially 60% of white students met the standards, whereas 90% did in 2017-18. The counting scores improved for all groups tracked as well.

Superintendent Donald Evans said these statistics are not based on the most recent data, which will be presented to the School Board in November. The data points might also partially reflect changes in who chooses to send their children to Berkeley public schools, or changes in the city’s demographics.

There has been significant improvement in kindergarten readiness for all groups tracked. Photo: 2020 Vision report

The 2020 Vision also looks at third-grade reading proficiency from state standardized tests. The gaps between white students, who have consistently performed well, and both black and Latino students have shrunk significantly in recent years. Less than half, 41%, of black students were deemed proficient in 2014-15, compared to 65% in 2017-18. For Latino students, the figure grew from 54% proficiency to 80%. Ninety-three percent of white students were reading-proficient in third grade last year, not much of a change from recent years.

This year, the school district is introducing a phonics-based curriculum, which is expected to reach more students who struggle with reading.

Reading scores have improved significantly for black and Latino students, but gaps remain. Photo: 2020 Vision report

Major math achievement gaps

The chart illustrating eighth-grade math proficiency, another 2020 Vision indicator, painted a bleaker picture. The black-white gap has actually grown over the past few years, and the majority of black and Latino students perform below grade level on standardized tests. Last year, 19% of black students, 46% of Latino students and 80% of white students performed at grade level.

The 2020 Vision report called those statistics “very concerning.”

When Berkeley Unified created its first Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) after the state education funding system changed in 2013, the district aligned its goals and expenses with the 2020 Vision priorities. The LCAP is a three-year plan required under the Local Control Funding Formula, which gives school districts more flexibility in how state dollars are spent and distributes additional funds based on student demographics. The district dedicated $9.2 million to carry out all the efforts included in its 2018-19 LCAP, according to the 2020 Vision report.

This year, BUSD launched two new programs the district hopes will reach more students who are struggling and address disparities. The African American Success Project will provide extra support to a select group of black students between seventh and 10th grades, and ninth grade has been restructured for all Berkeley High freshmen.

Major disparities in math proficiency persist. Photo: 2020 Vision report

At Tuesday’s meeting, a mother who had seven black children go through Berkeley schools told the council and presenters that her family had negative experiences in the district.

“One phrase I did not hear [tonight] is ‘institutional racism,’” she said during the public comment period. “Even though many people were well-intended [in BUSD], there was a lack of cultural competency, and a lack of things being in place for families in crisis.”

In recent years, the district has provided more comprehensive “cultural competency” training to staff, and made changes to the hiring process to make it more accessible to teachers of color.

City Council praises 2020 Vision work, says more needed

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Ben Bartlett asked whether the changing demographics in Berkeley have had an impact on the 2020 Vision. Nina Goldman, who is managing the project, said Berkeley’s relatively small number of children from target groups makes the city less competitive when applying for private funding.

Ruben Lizardo, UC Berkeley director of local government and community relations, encouraged the council to push state legislators to give more support to districts like BUSD.

“The way the state puts out LCAP money, and the fact that we’re actually making a change — it puts places like Berkeley at a disadvantage to the other places that may have deeper economic inequality,” Lizardo said.

Superintendent Donald Evans speaks with one of the student awardees before the crowd arrives at Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Superintendent Donald Evans speaks with one of the student awardees before the crowd arrives at Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Several members of the City Council praised the 2020 Vision work and reiterated that there is more to be done.

“I don’t believe there is any amount of resources our schools are not worthy of,” said Councilwoman Sophie Hahn. “I would like to see 10 more people here. It’s where our deepest held values manifest, and we’re still not doing enough.”

In the next year, 2020 Vision leaders plan to conduct a more thorough evaluation of existing programs. They are in the process of soliciting proposals and funding for new initiatives, and plan to focus more on family engagement, the report said.

“I have to say,” said Councilwoman Linda Maio on Tuesday, “given the economy that we are in now, with so much inequity and so much injustice and so much lopsidedness, with so many people falling off the edge, we should probably celebrate the fact that we’re at least holding onto our kids.”

See the 2020 Vision page on the mayor’s website for more information and statistics. 

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...