ABC: Assessed by Black Communities

ABC: Assessed by Black Communities is a community-driven educational equity and reform initiative designed to organize Black students and parents/guardians to assess and grade individual schools in the Berkeley Unified School District. Findings will be compiled into report cards, will be made publicly viewable online, and will be used to drive and measure the changes that Black families wish to see in the BUSD.

Social-Historical Context

The BUSD has worked for decades in various attempts to close the opportunity gap between African American and Latinx students and their white peers. The single missing ingredient in BUSD planning for racial equity has been the one thing we know must be prioritized: a sustained investment in the voices, self-reported experiences, and leadership of the students who are struggling the hardest at school, as well as their parents/guardians, and the community leaders who know them best. In it’s failure to center Black students, families and community leaders in strategies for racial equity, the BUSD continues to rank as one of the worst school districts in the nation in terms of its racial inequities (2019, EdSource). African American students fare the worst, by far, of any other racial group in the BUSD.

African American students face significant cultural and structural barriers to school success in the BUSD, which is driven by highly-educated white parents who maintain significant pressure on the district to ensure the academic success of their own white children at all costs. In this context, the pushing out of Black youth, especially Black boys, starts early and with dire consequences.

While African American families have never been the dominant racial group in the district, over the past two decades the forces of gentrification have dramatically reduced the numbers of Black students matriculating in the BUSD, creating increased isolation among Black students and families, and decreasing the Black families’ political power to affect change in the district on behalf of Black students.

Despite its efforts to decrease racialized disparities, the BUSD has made a notable lack of effort to engage with, listen to, and invest in the leadership of the very population it claims to want to better serve: Black students, families, and the community leaders who know them best. 

ABC Design

Given this context, ABC is designed to turn the tables so that Black students, parents, and community leaders can be at the center of discussions and strategies to create change in Berkeley schools.

To that end, community-based partners (Family Spirit Center, Center for Food, Faith and Justice, Berkeley Black Ecumenical Ministers Alliance and the Othering and Belonging Institute) are partnering with Berkeley High School’s African American Studies Department to organize and lead a process whereby Black parents and youth will assess and grade BUSD schools. School Report Cards will be used to direct and measure change in the BUSD.

ABC leadership will engage with Black youth and parents in community-based settings in a facilitated (and culturally attuned) process designed to identify Black youth and Black parent educational priorities for Black BUSD students. Once priorities and criteria for assessment have been established, we will then support the youth and parents to organize to collect assessments from fellow Black students and parents. Project leaders will compile the community-collected data and calculate grades for each school and post the findings publicly online.

Timeline

We are fundraising for youth and parent organizer positions beginning in December 2021 through the Berkeley faith community.

Our aim is to pilot ABC at two schools in Spring Semester of 2022: Berkeley High School and Berkeley Technical Academy. We plan to hire and train youth and parent organizers by Spring Break, lead youth and parent listening circles by late April, and spend May collecting assessments from youth and parent participants in the project. Youth and parents who participate will receive stipends for their time. We hope to have report cards for each of these two pilot schools by mid-Summer 2022.

In Fall 2022 we will begin engaging Black high school student leaders to assist in expanding ABC to BUSD middle and elementary schools.

Leadership

The Family Spirit Center is the lead agency responsible for planning and implementing ABC; we work in close partnership with the Center for Food, Faith and Justice, and the Berkeley Black Ecumenical Minister’s Alliance. The Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California is playing a key advisory and training role. We are also working closely with the African American Studies Department at Berkeley High School.