Tag: College Prep Curriculum

D.C. Denies Children Access to College Prep

Discussion about the reform of public education in the District of Columbia has long tended to be driven by two equally-true narratives. On one side, as reformers such as David…

Discussion about the reform of public education in the District of Columbia has long tended to be driven by two equally-true narratives. On one side, as reformers such as David Osborne of the Progressive Policy Institute correctly note, there is clear evidence that the three-decade-long effort to transform education in the Nation’s Capital is reaping some fruit. Fewer children are struggling with literacy while more high-quality teachers are working within its traditional district and public charter schools.

On the other side, news over the last few months that D.C. Public Schools allows children to graduate from high schools such as Ballou and Wilson despite high levels of absenteeism and unpreparedness for success beyond secondary school is a clear reminder that those efforts, especially within the district, have been plagued by allegations of test-cheating, favoritism to city officials, efforts to hide the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other harsh school discipline by all school operators, and gamesmanship that have little to do with teaching and curricula.

But there is a third story in the District of Columbia, one that hasn’t been given much consideration by reformers or traditionalists: The state of access to college-preparatory coursework, from Algebra 1 courses in middle schools to Advanced Placement and trigonometry classes critical to success in American higher education. Based on a Dropout Nation analysis of Civil Rights data submitted by traditional district and charter schools to the U.S. Department of Education, the narrative that emerges should displease every D.C. parent, caring adult and political leader.

Regardless of whether a student attends a D.C. traditional district or charter, there is little likelihood of any of them gaining access to college-preparatory education. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Few traditional district and charter school students take AP: Just 23.5 percent of D.C. Public School high school students and 11.4 percent of high schoolers attending charters took AP courses during the 2013-2014 school year. Overall, just 18.8 percent of high school students in the Nation’s Capital took the college preparatory courses that can help them prepare for the rigors of traditional colleges, community colleges, technical schools and apprenticeships (which are often run by community colleges). Put simply: The average D.C. high school student has just a one-in-six chance of taking an AP course by the time they are supposed to graduate with a diploma.

As you would expect, the numbers are even worse when broken down by race and ethnicity. Just 19.4 percent of Black high schoolers served by DCPS accessed A.P. courses that year. This is lower than the 61.9 percent rate for White students, 47.7 percent for Asian peers, and 26.9 percent for Latino high school students. It doesn’t get much better in charters. Just 11.2 percent of Black high schoolers served by charters accessed A.P. courses in 2013-2014; 36.2 percent of Asian high school students, 12.2 percent of Latino peers, and 8.9 percent of White students accessed AP that year.

Few D.C. high schoolers will take advanced math: Overall, just 30 percent of D.C. high schoolers accessed calculus, trigonometry, statistics and other forms of advanced math important for success in the working world in 2013-2014. But the bad news gets worse depending on whether you attend a DCPS school or a charter: While 41.8 percent of DCPS high schoolers took advanced math that year, only 11.7 percent of charter high schoolers did so.

Again, the numbers get worse when broken down further. Forty-three percent of Black high school students served by DCPS accessed calculus and advanced math in 2013-2014. Good news on its face. But that’s still lower than the 58 percent of White high schoolers, and 57.4 percent of Asian peers accessing those courses. Latino high school students trail behind, with just 38.9 percent of them taking calculus and advanced math.

Meanwhile, just 12.6 percent of Black high school students served by charters accessed calculus and advanced math that year. This was higher than the four percent of White high schoolers and 7.3 percent of Latino peers accessing those courses, but lower than the 17 percent of Asian high school students taking some form of advanced mathematics.

Only one in six take physics: Few D.C. high schoolers are taking physics, a key course for gaining preparation for success in science and technology courses in higher education (and ultimately, higher-income careers in those fields after college graduation). Just 18.4 percent of all high schoolers in the Nation’s Capital took physics in 2013-2014; this included 19.4 percent of DCPS high schoolers and 16.8 percent of peers served by charters.

Twenty-point-three percent of Black high schoolers served by DCPS took physics that year. That is higher than the 15.4 percent access rate for Latino high schoolers, but lower than the 28.7 percent rate for White peers and 24.7 percent rate for Asian high school students. Within charters, 13 percent of Black high schoolers took physics, compared to 19.7 percent of Latino high schoolers, 16.9 percent of White peers and 12.8 percent of Asian counterparts.

Few middle schoolers gain access to Algebra 1: Just 8.5 percent of the District’s seventh- and eighth-grade students take this important gateway course to other forms of math in 2013-2014. This includes a mere 9.3 percent of DCPS middle-schoolers and a woeful 7.6 percent of peers in charters. Put bluntly: D.C. children are losing out on future opportunities to learn.

Within DCPS, only 5.8 percent of Black middle school students took Algebra 1 that year, the lowest rate of access among all student subgroups. Twenty-seven-point-six percent of Asian middle-schoolers, 24.3 percent of White counterparts, and 10.7 percent of Latino peers took Algebra 1 that year. But it doesn’t get better for those in charter schools. Just 6.6 percent of Black middle school students took Algebra 1, versus 20 percent of Asian middle-schoolers, 12.4 percent of Latino counterparts and 11.9 percent of White peers.

Certainly it is clear in some ways that children in Washington are receiving higher-quality education than they did back in the 1990s, when DCPS was known as the Superfund Site of American public education.

Between 2002 and 2015, the percentage of D.C. fourth-graders reading Below Basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress declined by 25 percentage points (from 69 percent to 44 percent) while the percentage reading at Proficient and Advanced levels tripled (from 10 percent to 27 percent). This included a 20 percentage point decline in the number of Black fourth-graders in the city struggling with literacy (from 72 percent to 52 percent) and an 11 percentage point increase in fourth-graders reading at and above grade level (from seven percent to 18 percent).

The reform efforts within DCPS that began under Michelle Rhee and have continued under successors Kaya Henderson and Antwan Wilson helped more children gain the knowledge they need for greater chances of success. Charter schools also contributed to these improvements; the percentage of fourth-graders in charters reading Below Basic declined by 19 percentage points (from 64 percent to 45 percent) between 2005 (when NAEP began including charters in testing) and 2015, while the percentage reading at and above grade level increased by 12 percentage points (from 10 percent to 22 percent).

But as Dropout Nation‘s analysis demonstrates, far too many children, especially Black children (who make up 75 percent of high school students and 77 percent of middle-schoolers in the District’s traditional district and charter schools) continue to be shortchanged of the knowledge they need for success beyond their elementary and secondary years. This is especially clear when looking at how poorly charters in the city are doing in providing such opportunities to the children in their care compared to the traditional district.

D.C.’s public charter schools have helped the District become a better place for children to learn. But their failures in providing college-preparatory courses is stunning and unacceptable.

Some charter school leaders will, of course, argue that this analysis is painting their operations with a broad brush. After all, some charters, most-notably See Forever Foundation’s Maya Angelou schools (which was featured in a Dropout Nation commentary seven years ago), focus on youth who previously dropped out of school or were incarcerated in the District’s juvenile justice system, and therefore, are working hard to stem the years of neglect to which those children were subjected while in DCPS.

Others such as the Knowledge is Power Program, which nationally has done a better job of preparing children for college completion than all but a few traditional districts, will likely argue that college preparatory curricula is already part of the agenda, and thus, AP isn’t needed. Some seem to be doing the work: Some 43 percent of Black high schoolers served by E.L. Haynes Public Charter School took physics in 2013-2014, one of the highest numbers among charters in the District in this category.

But it is hard for Friendship Public Charter Schools, one of the nation’s premiere charter school operators, to explain why it provided calculus and advanced math to 18.2 percent of Black high schoolers attending its schools (and 18.1 percent of its students overall). KIPP can’t explain with credibility why not one student regardless of background took physics that year.Or why BASIS, which has been ranked the top charter school in the District, only had four students —  out of 520 — taking advanced math and calculus in 2013-2014.

Excuses cannot and should never suffice when the numbers are absolutely woeful — and children are being denied high-quality opportunity. There are far too many charters that should be providing college-preparatory learning that aren’t doing so. Which is unacceptable in light of the charter school movement’s mission of providing all children with high-quality educational options that cannot otherwise be found within traditional districts.

As for DCPS? The good news is that it is doing better than its peers among charters in providing college-preparatory courses to its middle- and high school students. But as the data shows, the district is still doing poorly by far too many of our children, especially those Black and Brown. Given the latest news about graduation rate inflation and allowing children wholly unprepared for college and life to walk out of its schools with sheepskins, there is also reason to be skeptical about how well the traditional district is doing in actually educating the youth who are in those classrooms.

District of Columbia officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser (who oversees DCPS), the city council and the Public Charter School Board need to put pressure on all school leaders to step up and provide all of the city’s children with high-quality education. [Congress, which has oversight over the District, should also help. But given the penchant for doing harm, it may as well stay out.] This includes doing better in providing information to families on how they can access college-preparatory courses, continuing to overhaul elementary and preschool curricula (a reason why so few children gain access to college preparatory courses down the road), and pushing both DCPS and charter school operators to ensure that all children are given the classes they need for lifelong success.

Reformers at the national level must also play their part, holding their counterparts in D.C. (and in other districts and school operations inside the Beltway) to account for failures to meet the high expectations we implicitly set for school operators in the rest of the nation. The District must be the model for transforming public education and ensuring high-quality options, curricula, and teaching for all children, especially those Black and Brown.

Certainly the progress being made in D.C.’s district and charter schools should be noted — as should the failures in leadership that still remain. But that isn’t enough. It is also time to address the failures of the District’s school operators to help the children they serve gain college-preparatory learning they need and deserve.

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Missouri Fails All Children

These days, the Show Me State demonstrates a lot of things to people. Few of them any good. Yet none of the black eyes it has gotten compared to the…

These days, the Show Me State demonstrates a lot of things to people. Few of them any good. Yet none of the black eyes it has gotten compared to the damage its public education systems are doing to its children.

The latest stain on the states reputation can be seen in St. Louis, where protests against police brutality after Circuit Court Judge Timothy Wilson let former Police Officer Jason Stockley off the hook for murdering Anthony Lamar Smith is a reminder of the slaying of Michael Brown by another rogue cop in nearby Ferguson three years ago. The arrests of protestors and journalists by the Gateway City’s police department — as well as  arrogant chants ““Whose streets? Our streets” by those officers — has justified the NAACP’s move earlier this year to tell Black men and women to avoid the state like the plague.

But the biggest stain on Missouri’s present reputation has less to do with rogue cops and police misconduct and more with the low quality of its public education systems. Especially in St. Louis, where the (often state-controlled) districts within the city and county have become infamous for overusing harsh school discipline, providing few opportunities for high quality education, criminalizing the lives of youth, and restricting the ability of poor and minority children to escape the failure mills that litter the landscape. But as a Dropout Nation analysis shows, St. Louis merely mirrors the woeful lack of opportunities for the kind of college-preparatory courses children need for lifelong success.

Just 13.7 percent of the 292,558 children attending Missouri’s high schools took calculus, trigonometry and other forms of advanced mathematics in 2013-2104, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The woeful levels cut across nearly all socioeconomic backgrounds. Black children suffered the worst with just one out of every 10 taking calculus and advanced math that year. But White children did little better, with only 13.9 percent taking college-level mathematics; a mere 11.4 percent of Latino students, 13.5 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native peers, and 33.6 percent of Asian children taking those courses in the year surveyed.

The Show Me State does even worse in providing Advanced Placement courses that help prepare children for the rigors of higher education. Just 10.5 percent of all Missouri high-schoolers took AP courses in 2013-2104. This includes a mere 8.7 percent of Black students, 9.6 percent of Native peers, 10.3 percent of Latino high schoolers, and 10.4 percent of White students. Only Asian students were provided AP courses at high levels, with 26.7 percent of them taking those college-level classes that year. [Just six-tenths of one percent of all Show Me State high school students took International Baccalaureate courses, the other college preparatory coursework of choice for America’s students.]

Things get little better when it comes to physics, a science course that helps children gain preparation to take on higher ed classes that lead to high-paying careers in science and technology. Just 8.9 percent of high school students in Missouri took physics in 2013-2014. This is one area in which White students do worse than their minority counterparts. Just 7.8 percent of White high schoolers took physics versus 9.5 percent of Native students, 12 percent of Latino peers, 12.1 percent of Black students, and 17.4 percent of Asian peers.

The rationing of opportunity, of course begins long before children reach high school and can be seen in the middle school years in the numbers taking Algebra 1, a key course for college preparation. Just 11.8 percent of all Show Me State middle schoolers took Algebra 1 in 2013-2014. Again, Black children are failed miserably, with just 9.9 percent taking Algebra 1. But children from other backgrounds do little better. Only 10.4 percent of Latino middle school students, 11 percent of Native peers, 11.8 percent of White students, and 22.3 percent of Asian peers took Algebra 1 that year.

The path to denying opportunity begins in Missouri’s elementary schools, where children  (especially those from poor and minority households) are denied by teachers and guidance counselors into the gateways into what traditional districts consider to be higher levels of teaching and curricula.

Just 4.4 percent of Show Me State students are taking gifted-and-talented course. Certainly gifted-and-talented programs are questionable in their quality (as well as being a legacy of ability tracking, IQ testing frauds, and the other forms of racialism that began in the 20th century as a result of the belief that only some children are capable of learning at high levels). But they are also one of the few avenues children have for getting some semblance of high-quality education.

Oddly enough, Black children are twice as likely to gain entry into gifted-and-talented programs than White peers, with 10.4 percent of Black children in such pathways in 2013-2014 compared to just 4.6 percent of White students. This may be a result of the fact that Missouri’s rural and small town districts, which serve the bulk of the state’s White children, don’t provide such gateways. Meanwhile, just 34 percent of Latino students, 4.7 percent of Native peers, and 22.9 percent of Asian students were in gifted-and-talented programs.

An even bigger problem: That far too many children are far more likely to be condemned by districts into special ed ghettos. Thirteen-point-seven percent of Show Me State students are condemned to special ed in 2013-2014, all but guaranteeing that they will not get high-quality teaching and curricula. Black and White children are particularly prone to being condemned to special ed ghettos, with, respectively 14.7 percent and 14.5 percent being placed there compared to 3.3 percent of Asian students, five percent of Native peers, and 8.7 percent of Latino children.

There are plenty of reasons for people in St. Louis and the rest of Missouri to protest. Police brutality is one. Educational abuse is the other.

Put simply: Children in Missouri are far more-likely to end up in special ed than taking gifted-and-talented programs or any other opportunity for high-quality education. Latino and White children, for example are respectively, two and three times more likely to end up in special ed than in gifted-and-talented gateways.

One of the underlying culprits lie with the Show Me State’s failure to adequately finance college-preparatory opportunities within traditional districts. While the states provides some funds for offering AP courses, it is dwarfed by the sums spent on special education. In 2015-2016, for example, the state spent a mere $415,875 on AP (as well as dual enrollment) courses, while spending $411.5 million on special ed. An additional complication will come in the next few years thanks to the federal government’s move two years to consolidate funds used to finance AP courses for poor and minority students into a block grant, effectively making it harder for districts to offer high-quality opportunities to their most-vulnerable children.

Meanwhile the state has done little to expand the number of public charter schools serving children of all backgrounds. Just 52 charters operate in the Show Me State in 2015-2016, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, all of them in St. Louis and Kansas City because of their status as failure mills. Given that Missouri children attending charter schools gain an additional 22 days of learning in math and 14 additional days of learning in reading (according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes), the lack of high-quality charters hurts both children in big city and rural communities who need help. The efforts to

Making things even worse was the state’s decision three years ago to ditch Common Core’s reading and math standards. This move, a result of opposition from movement conservatives in the Show Me State, denied all children (including those who are poor and White as well as Black and Latino) the comprehensive knowledge they need to be prepared for college-preparatory coursework, and ultimately, for the rigors of coursework in the traditional colleges, technical schools, and apprenticeships that make up American higher education.

The Show Me State’s political and educational leaders — including current Gov. Eric Greitens and his predecessor, Jay Nixon — deserve to bow their heads in shame for the educational abuse and neglect they are perpetrating on all of the children in the state’s public education systems. More importantly, these officials need to expand opportunities for all of those children to gain the knowledge critical to their future success as well as that of the state. Until then, the rogue policing tolerated in Missouri will be merely its most-public embarrassment.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Why We Need College Prep Curricula


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On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I examine arguments made by Charles Murray and others that American students don’t need high-quality college prep curricula — and explain why such thinking…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I examine arguments made by Charles Murray and others that American students don’t need high-quality college prep curricula — and explain why such thinking is mistaken. As nearly every aspect of the American economy — and the global economy at large — has become knowledge-based, every job (including blue-collar positions) require strong skills in algebra, trigonometry and the kind of knowledge that used to only be required for college. College prep curricula is also fundamental for American society to keep its place as the economy and culture in which even the poorest can rise to the top.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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