Last week’s release of civil rights data by the U.S. Department of Education was shocking, but not surprising. Far too many black and Latino students were suspended — and based on past research and reporting (including coverage by Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle), it is often than minority students (along with their white peers) are being suspended for issues that have almost nothing to do with violence, drugs, and weapons possession. The reports showing lower numbers of minority students taking on challenging college-preparatory courses — both in comparison to white and Asian peers, as well as to their overall district and school enrollment — was also a reminder that we must transform American public education.
But the Department of Education’s basic data on college prep learning for each district — which focuses on proportionality of course participation compared to overall district enrollment — doesn’t fully reveal the extent of the problem. One has to dig deeper in the data, looking at the percentage of middle school and secondary education by race and ethnicity to which low expectations for children — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds — and the legacy of the comprehensive high school model (and the concept of ability tracking that helped spawn it) is hurting the futures of far too many young minds.
In this analysis, Dropout Nation takes a look at two equally sized districts: Philadelphia (a majority-minority system which serves some of the nation’s poorest students serving 51,370 high schoolers and 22,839 middle school students in 2009-2010) and Fairfax County (Va) — a mostly-white system with 59,680 high school students and 24,129 seventh- and eighth-graders enrolled which has gained a reputation for both being high-performing and serving well children living in one of the nation’s wealthiest suburbs. While the districts serve different communities, they share one thing in common: A poor job of helping all kids succeed in school and in life.
The percentage of Latino high school students in Philadelphia taking Advanced Placement courses in math in 2009-2010, slightly lower than the 18 percent of black students taking such courses. Thirty-four percent of white students, and 52 percent of Asian students took A.P. math.
The percentage of black high school students in Fairfax County who took AP math in 2009; only the 1.6 percent rate for Latino students is lower. Eight percent of white students and 12 percent of Asian students took AP math in Fairfax.
The percentage of black students in Philly who took A.P. science. That’s lower than the 7 percent of Latino students, 22 percent of white students, and 39 percent of Asian students who took college-prep science courses.
The percentage of Latino students in Fairfax who were taking A.P. science; only 2.4 percent of black students took those courses. Meanwhile 12.5 percent of Asian students and eight percent of white students took A.P. science.
The percentage of Philly’s Latino students who took at least one A.P. course. Eighteen percent of black students, 34 percent of white students, and 52 percent of Asian students in the City of Brotherly Love took at least one A.P. course.
The percentage of Fairfax’s Latino students who took at least one A.P. course. Twelve percent of black students, 32 percent of white students, and 35 percent of white students took at least one A.P. course.
Three-tenths of One Percent
The percentage of Philadelphia’s Latino students who took a calculus course. That’s lower than the equally abysmal nine-tenths of one percent of black students in the district studying that important math course. The numbers are also terribly low for other students in the district: Just three percent of white students and five percent of Asian students took calculus in 2009. By the way: Philly only provides 29 calculus courses throughout the entire district.
The percentage of Fairfax County black high schoolers who took calculus. Only five Latino students (out of 10,970 enrolled in high school), five-tenths of one percent of white students, and two percent of Asian students took calculus. Fairfax only provides 15 calculus courses.
The percentage of Latino students in Philly who took physics in 2009; 4.5 percent of black students took physics. Meanwhile eight percent of white students and 13 percent of Asian students took physics courses. The Philadelphia district only staffs 59 physics classes.
The percentage of Latino students took physics in Fairfax County; 16.6 percent of black students took physics. Meanwhile 18 percent of white and Asian students took physics.
The percentage of black middle-school students in Philadelphia who took Algebra 1. Forty-five percent of Latino students, 46 percent of white students, and 51 percent of Asian students took the course. Enrollment numbers for middle-school students are culled from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data because Civil Rights Data doesn’t include a breakdown of enrollment for middle-schoolers.
The percentage of Latino middle-schoolers who took Algebra 1. Just 23 percent of African-American students, 40 percent of white students, and 43 percent of Latino students took the course.