Latinos, African-Americans have Less Access to STEM Classes

Recently, Carolyn Jones, writing for California’s EdSource, shared the findings of a recent research report that focuses on equitable access to math and science courses for students of color. Excerpts of her piece appear below:

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.

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.

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.

There are 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 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.


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