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African-American and Latino students were less likely to attend schools that offer advanced math and science classes, new data shows.

Latino and African-American students were less likely to pass algebra 1 and less likely to attend high schools that offer advanced math or science classes than their white and Asian peers, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Ryan Smith, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based education policy nonprofit, said the new federal data “is maddening.”

“We have math and science geniuses in our low-income communities and in schools that serve students of color. We need to give those students the tools to thrive,” he said. “This should be at the center of our conversation when we talk about equity.”

The data, based on the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection survey of U.S. public schools reveals the following:

  • African-American students make up 17 percent of the overall 8th grade enrollment, but only 11 percent of those enrolled in algebra 1.
  • Latinos made up 25 percent of the overall enrollment but only 18 percent of those taking algebra 1.
  • Eighty five percent of white students passed algebra 1 in 8th grade, while only 65 percent of African-American students did. Asian and Latino students were nearly tied, at 74 percent and 72 percent respectively.

Smith pointed to several reasons for the disparities, including:

  • Funding inequities that leave some schools with well-equipped classrooms and science labs and others without.
  • A shortage of experienced math and science teachers at schools that serve students of color.
  • Inadequate preschools and daycares that leaves many low-income, African-American and Latino students unprepared for kindergarten and unable to catch up academically.
  • Low expectations, or “the belief that black and brown children can’t do math and science,” Smith said.

The study breaks down math and science course enrollment and passing rates by race and ethnicity, gender and disability. It involved 17,337 districts and 50.6 million public school students.

In California, some programs stand out for narrowing the math and science achievement gap. In San Diego, a math and science tutoring program called Pathways links college undergraduates with local K-12 students, most of whom are Latino and African-American. The program has shown to be effective at raising students’ academic performance.

Based at San Diego State University, the Pathways program sends about 120 tutors to 15 schools a year, serving more than 4,000 students annually. Tutors work in classrooms alongside the teachers, and are paired with students who are lagging academically.

“We’ve found that beyond the academics, it really helps having another caring person in the classroom to support student learning,” said Nadia Rohlinger, the program coordinator. “To have a near-peer who looks like you, has had similar experiences, says to students, ‘You know what? I’m here, I go to college and you can do it, too,’ … it just works on a whole different level.”

Based on surveys from teachers and students, those students enrolled in the Pathways program raised their grades and had higher attendance rates on days that the tutors were in class, she said.

“That’s huge,” she said. “And heartwarming. We really feel we’re making a difference.”

The federal survey found that high schools that had majority African-American or Latino enrollment were less likely to offer math and science classes at all levels except algebra 1, especially at the advanced levels. Only 38 percent of predominantly minority schools offered calculus, compared to 50 percent of all high schools. Just over half — 51 percent — offered physics, compared to 60 percent of high schools overall.

The data also showed a stark gap between students learning English and other students. English learners were under-represented in chemistry, physics, calculus, advanced math and algebra 2, although not lower-level classes like in algebra 1, geometry and biology.

There was some good news. Girls did almost as well as boys in math and science class enrollment, even outnumbering boys in some classes. Girls made up 52 percent of students in chemistry and advanced math and 51 percent in algebra 2. Girls were outnumbered in physics, though, 46 percent girls to 54 percent boys.

The data echoes other studies of the achievement gap in math and science.

Education Trust-West published a report in 2017 that found that in California, only 11 percent of students learning English attend schools that offer the advanced math courses and these students are less likely than their peers to be enrolled in these courses when available.

Another report found that Latino students in California are more often placed in non-college-preparatory classes than their white or Asian peers and more often required to take remedial classes in college.

A 2016 study published in Educational Researcher found large gaps in science knowledge between white and African-American and Latino children, noting “income inequality and racial segregation in schools perpetuate the disparities in learning opportunities and contribute to science achievement gaps throughout the elementary and middle grades.”

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  1. Edwin Javius 5 months ago5 months ago

    It is pretty dis-heartening to still be reporting on the equity and access w Black and Brown students. Access is about acting. C’mon y’all!

  2. Don 5 months ago5 months ago

    Where was Ryan Smith when SFUSD right across the bay from Ed Trust dropped 8th grade Algebra and decreased advanced math access for all groups ? I guess equity trumps advanced courses. Mediocrity for all. But hey, you got your equity so stop complaining.

  3. Peter Ford 5 months ago5 months ago

    As a California middle-school math teacher, it appears the authors of this study didn't do their homework. As a Common Core adopter, the 8th grade math standards are not Algebra 1 as they were; of course fewer students will be taking Algebra 1 in 8th grade. My school (urban, Title 1 eligible population) has tried to provide Algebra 1 to some of our 8th graders but the California won't even let you test 8th graders … Read More

    As a California middle-school math teacher, it appears the authors of this study didn’t do their homework. As a Common Core adopter, the 8th grade math standards are not Algebra 1 as they were; of course fewer students will be taking Algebra 1 in 8th grade. My school (urban, Title 1 eligible population) has tried to provide Algebra 1 to some of our 8th graders but the California won’t even let you test 8th graders in Algebra 1!
    While there are Algebra 1 topics in the 8th grade standards, Common Core standards mirror the NAEP assessment. The merits of CC vs. Algebra 1 in 8th is another argument; the real equity issue for Black and Brown students is having a continuum of quality math instruction from K-8, which most definitely is not the case for students who need it the most. When we get 6th graders who’ve never long-divided, much less think ½ +⅓ = ⅖, that’s the real math equity issue.

  4. steve johnson 5 months ago5 months ago

    One of he issues here is the "teacher shortage." School districts prefer to save money and not hire qualified teachers, preferring eachers with emergency permits and those without credentials. This is true in math and other disciplines. Unqualified teachers cannot teach upper division subjects and qualified teachers are overlooked by school districts in order to save money. Additionally, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing should create a waiver or a career ladder program to … Read More

    One of he issues here is the “teacher shortage.” School districts prefer to save money and not hire qualified teachers, preferring eachers with emergency permits and those without credentials. This is true in math and other disciplines. Unqualified teachers cannot teach upper division subjects and qualified teachers are overlooked by school districts in order to save money. Additionally, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing should create a waiver or a career ladder program to allow teachers with foundation-level credentials to become qualified to teach higher-level courses. At this point, a foundation level teacher could teach up to pre-Calculus. Another option could be to provide video-conferencing classes for groups of schools where no higher level math teacher is available, but where there is an need to offer the higher level math course. This problem can be solved. There simply does not yet exist the will among students, teachers, administrators and state officials to solve it. I have proposed solutions in my letter. It could be used as a starting point for further discussion.

  5. John 5 months ago5 months ago

    Ryan J Smith sums it up best: “We have math and science geniuses in our low-income communities and in schools that serve students of color.” If we’re going to overcome the grand challenges of the future, equity of education is essential.

  6. Wayne Bishop 5 months ago5 months ago

    “Eighty five percent of white students passed algebra 1 in 8th grade, while only 65 percent of African-American students did.”

    Your data is out of date and reflects the great progress that was made under the pre-Common Core standards but rather the previous CA Math Content Standards written by the Stanford Math faculty. Check out the numbers on the disaster to kids that has transpired:
    https://www.hoover.org/research/californias-common-core-mistake

  7. Meg 5 months ago5 months ago

    In 2013, California dropped 8th grade Algebra as a requirement. As a result many districts including San Francisco and Pacifica stopped allowing public students to take Algebra prior to 9th grade. As a result zero percent of public school students learn Algebra prior to high school in those districts. Opportunity for no one. Fair for everyone!!

  8. el 5 months ago5 months ago

    I am honestly shocked to learn that in a state where kids are expected to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade (as was the case for current 12th graders) that only 50 percent of high schools even offer calculus. Presumably this also means that students in those high schools are effectively unable/unlikely to take 4 years of college prep math.