Arne Duncan: Deep racial inequalities exist in access to STEM courses

From the NMSI blog:

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the Education Writers Association’s 67th Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, where he asserted that despite the 60-year-old ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, there still exists a deep sense of inequality in America’s school system – specifically when it comes to preparing our minority and low in-come students for rigorous, high-level STEM and Advanced Placement (AP)* courses.

In Secretary Duncan’s view, the achievement gap in STEM education is proof positive that “education is the civil rights issue of our generation,” and he advocated that the U.S. government is striving to pursue equity through all of their education programs and initiatives. To drive home his point, Duncan listed four core reasons as to why education is still an “urgent civil rights issue,” – and while all of his points have value and merit, one struck NMSI as particularly important and relevant to our cause. In short, he said that “in a knowledge-based, globally competitive economy, access to STEM courses and AP classes is also a civil rights issue.”

Duncan cited the most recent Civil Rights Data Collection survey, which shows that even though minority students comprise nearly 40 percent of high school students, only 1/4 of all students taking AP courses and exams are minorities. Furthermore, minority students constitute only 20 percent of those who enroll in calculus classes.

Student access to advanced STEM and AP coursework also is troubling. According to Duncan, a new analysis shows that American Indian and Native Alaskan students “are much less likely than students in other ethnic groups to attend high schools that even offer AP classes, calculus, or physics.” Access for African American students is also lopsided – only 2/3 of these students attend high schools that offer calculus courses, compared to 81 percent of white students and 87 percent of Asian-American students.

“The bottom line,” said Duncan, “is that students of color, students with disabilities, and English learners don’t get the same opportunity as their white and Asian-American peers to take the math and science courses that figure importantly in preparing for careers and college.”

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  1. Pingback: AP math and science in Florida: Close THIS achievement gap! | Bridge to Tomorrow

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