Many students attend schools without rigorous STEM courses
(Fla.) More than one million students across the country do not have access to fundamental math and science courses needed to prepare for college and careers, a new report shows.
Researchers at the Foundation for Excellence in Education–a Florida-based nonprofit education reform group–found the problem was exasperated in high-poverty and high-minority schools, which were less likely to offer Algebra 1 or the subsequent progression of math courses expected by many colleges and universities for enrollment.
Such courses, which include geometry, Algebra 2, advanced math and calculus, are also required to enter high-paying science, technology, engineering and math career fields.
“The data reveal a disturbing pattern of inequity,” Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said in a statement. “As the percentage of minority or low-income populations in schools increases, access to core courses decreases. Regardless of where a school is located and how well it is performing, students who work hard should still be able to graduate ready to succeed in college and the workforce.”
Studies show that students who take high-quality math in high school are more likely to declare STEM majors in college and pursue such careers upon graduating. Those who take Algebra II in high school are more likely to enroll in college or community college.
Using the most recent data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, researchers looked at how many districts and individual schools offered high-level courses in math–such as Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Advanced Math and Calculus–and science–including Biology, Chemistry and Physics–as well as college-credit bearing courses like Advanced Placement and dual enrollment options.
The findings are based on self-reported data collected from 17,300 public school districts and 96,400 public schools and educational programs across the country.
Nearly 1.4 million students attended public high schools that did not offer Algebra I or the subsequent math coursework during the 2015-16 school year. About 1.5 million students attended schools that didn’t offer Biology.
The numbers were far higher the more advanced the courses. More than half of high schools in the country, representing 4.3 million students, don’t offer Calculus, and nearly half of schools, representing 3.4 million children, don’t offer Physics.
Students attending high schools with higher populations of minority students are significantly less likely to have access to courses needed to prepare them for college and career.
Twenty-five percent schools serving high populations of minority students do not offer Algebra I or higher. Only 12 percent of schools with lower rates of minority students were found to not offer such classes.
Additionally, 25 percent of schools with large minority student populations don’t offer Biology or higher science courses. The same was true for only 14 percent of schools with low minority populations.
Similar gaps were found between schools serving high rates of low-income youth and those in more affluent areas. More than 20 percent of high poverty schools did not offer Algebra I or higher during the 2015-16 school year, compared to 16 percent of schools with fewer low-income youth.
Sixty percent of high poverty schools did not offer Physics or higher, compared to 33 percent of low-poverty schools.
Researchers said that while they assumed lack of access would be much higher in rural schools compared to city, suburb or town schools, the data showed the opposite to be true.
They also noted that problem was not isolated to just a few states. Not a single state offers Algebra I or Biology in all high schools, according to the report.
Authors of the study recommend policymakers conduct a statewide audit of course offerings and access in their local schools in order to get a better understanding of which math, science and advanced learning opportunities students have access to, and were efforts need to be made to expand access.
Researchers also called on education officials to communicate to families which courses are necessary for college and career readiness and inform them of ways their children can take such classes.