“I Thought I Was Taking Algebra But It Was Really Pre-Algebra”: the Racial and Ethnic Gap in New York’s Gateway Courses

Study of N.Y. Schools Finds Wide Racial, Ethnic Disparities in Advanced High School Courses.

That’s the alarming headline that recently captured my attention, based on  unpublished state Education Department data from the 2016-2017 school year analyzed by the New York Equity Coalition. The Coalition comprises the State Business Council, the New York Urban League, Albany County Chamber of Commerce and Education Trust-New York, which compiled the data. The research shows that the percentage of Black and Latino students taking advanced science and math courses remains lower than that for White students across New York State.

These “gateway” courses are viewed as preparation for true college level work and well-paying science and technology jobs.  

The report showed the main reasons for these disparities are: Latino and Black students are less likely than White students to attend schools where gateway college prep courses are offered; even in schools that do offer these gateway courses, Latino and Black students are less likely than their White peers to be enrolled; and students of color are disproportionately enrolled in schools with too few school or no counselors who could help them navigate course enrollment to prepare for college and careers.

Here’s Quinton, a student interviewed in the report: “I thought I was taking Algebra, but it really was this pre-Algebra. So it took two years to finish one class. I wanted to take Geometry and then pre-Cal. Now I have to double up when I’m a senior if I want to take all of the classes I want.”

In my district in Long Island, AP, IB, and other college-level courses are open to any student who wishes to enroll and all students are encouraged to take at least one higher-level class. Here, the issue becomes more about parents spending money on tutoring and test preparation for AP and higher level courses to supplement the instruction they are receiving, which inadvertently becomes an impediment for low-income students whose families cannot afford this added expense to ensure that their child succeeds.

Why it matters

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is a direct correlation between teen health and academic achievement. Data shows that academically successful adolescents have higher self-esteem, lower levels of depression and anxiety, are more socially inclined, and are less likely to abuse alcohol and engage in substance abuse, becoming healthy contributors to their communities and society. These adolescents in turn become adults who are more likely to have stable employment, earn higher salaries, are more likely to have health insurance, are less dependent on social assistance, are less likely to engage in criminal activity, and are more active as contributing citizens. Overall, academic success makes us all healthier and happier.

In addition, students need a postsecondary education to even enter today’s competitive job market and and an increasingly higher level of education is becoming necessary to tackle the ever-evolving technological demands used in the workplace.

How do we fix it?

The good news is that, while the report is disturbing, it shines a spotlight on the fact that we can and need to do better. The New York Equity Coalition is following up with action by implementing a “5×25 Agenda for Success” starting with students who are entering sixth grade in fall 2018. The Coalition is calling on New York’s leaders across state government —the Board of Regents, the New York State Education Department (NYSED), Executive, and Legislature—to fulfill five commitments:

  • Transform the state’s new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act into action that advances college and career readiness for all students.
  • Require that families receive better information and expand access to school counselors and other resources.
  • Establish a default course sequence that all students are automatically enrolled in, backed by high expectations and support for educators and students.
  • Expand access to AP, IB, dual enrollment courses, proven programs like P-TECH, and employer-based internships and other connections to colleges and employers.
  • Update New York’s course requirements for high school graduation, including adding a fourth year of math.

School districts should also take action to address the issue and take initiative to implement innovative programs. One such program being looked at in my district  is AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination. AVID is a nonprofit organization that provides a host of resources to train educators to specifically close the opportunity gap.

What is certain is that the status quo that has existed for far too long needs to become a thing of the past. All of our students should have an equal platform that enables them to succeed in courses that will prepare them for college and beyond.

What do you think?

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