One of the key predictors of college success is whether a student takes algebra II in high school. Yet, a new survey by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found that 3,000 high schools serving nearly 500,000 students don’t even offer algebra II.
“Without algebra II, you probably don’t go to college,” said Patte Barth, director of the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, in a conference call last week.
“If you do go, you are probably going to end up in remediation. Without algebra II, you don’t become an auto mechanic. Without it, you don’t get into one of the growing service jobs in growing fields like communications,” she said.
The new U.S. DOE report, based on the Civil Rights Data Collection 2009-10 sample from more than 72,000 schools that encompass about 85 percent of the nation’s students, paints an unsettling picture of an education system in which poor and minority students are often on the losing end of discipline, achievement and resources.
“Instead of creating equal opportunities for all of our students to thrive, too many schools are still stuck in an educational caste system,” said Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Among the findings of the federal study garnering the most attention:
•Only 29 percent of high-minority high schools offered calculus, compared to 55 percent of schools with the lowest African-American and Hispanic enrollment.
•Black students, particularly males, are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers. African-American students make up 18 percent of the students in the survey sample, but 35 percent of the students suspended and 39 percent of the students expelled.
•Although blacks and Hispanics constitute 44 percent of the students in the survey, they make up only 26 percent of students in gifted-and-talented programs.
•More than half of all fourth-graders held back in 2010 were African-American. Overall, black students were nearly three times as likely as white students to be retained, while Hispanic students were twice as likely.
•Teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues in other schools.
•Fifteen percent of teachers in schools with the highest black and Hispanic enrollment had taught two years or fewer, compared with 8 percent of teachers in schools with the lowest minority enrollments.
“This report speaks urgently of the need to address the chronic suspension of minorities, the growing resource gap between wealthy and poor school districts, the failed policy of closing public schools and destabilizing neighborhoods, the use of law enforcement as an extension of school discipline, and the inexcusable fact that children of color are routinely shut out of opportunities for gifted-and-talented and college-readiness programs,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
Those opportunities must begin with ensuring that all students have access to the courses necessary for the higher wage jobs. Students can’t learn if they lack the opportunity to do so.
Nationwide, a third of first-year college students require remediation, typically in math. And remediation maps directly to the intensity of the courses that students took in high school, or, as Barth of the National School Boards Association noted, “More significantly, it maps to the courses they did not take.”
In some schools, students can’t take the courses because they aren’t offered. For example, a third of high schools in the United States don’t offer advanced placement courses. And while 77 percent of white students attend high schools that offer trigonometry, only 67 percent of black students and 60 percent of Hispanic students do.
“The simple fact of taking a math class beyond algebra II [such as trig or precalculus] doubles the chances of getting a B.A. The simple fact of taking an AP class doubles a student’s chances of graduating from college,” said Barth, whose group just released its own new study, “Is High School Tough Enough?”
The argument that tougher high school courses should be limited to the college-prep track ignores the fact that even blue-collar jobs now demand higher-order reading and math skills.
It’s long been realized that U.S. schools suffer an achievement gap, but the federal data now help us understand there’s also an opportunity gap in some schools.
–From Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog