About one in six Hispanic high school students attends a school that does not even offer physics. Among Black students, it’s one in five. American Indian students? One in three.
Things are even worse in Calculus. Schools that do not offer the subject enroll a third of Hispanic students, more than a third of Black students, and a whopping 44 percent of American Indian students.
Why should we care? These findings from our Vital Signs reports deal a severe blow to our ideals of equal opportunity and economic vitality. If you can’t take classes like physics or calculus in high school, you’ll have a hard time getting on a path to critical (and high-paying) jobs in fields like engineering and technology. Millions of U.S. high school students are in this fix. That adds up to a lot of squandered talent at a time when employers can’t find the engineers and tech workers they need.
These findings emerged from our review of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), a federal government survey of more than 70,000 schools in some 7,000 districts that enroll about 85 percent of the nation’s students. We worked with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to publish the first state-by-state analysis of this massive dataset.
Things might be especially dire for students in your state. The maps below focus on Black students. Note that, in 17 states, at least 20% of Black students don't have access to physics in their schools:
In 39 states, at least 20 percent of Black students lack access to calculus in their schools:
(For detailed state-level results broken down by race and ethnicity, see vitalsigns.changetheequation.org).
So what can states do to address this problem? Raising high school graduation requirements can be part of the solution.
Yet simply mandating that schools offer such courses is not enough. Teachers might not be prepared to teach such courses, and students might not be prepared to take them. Rather, states can promote programs that prepare schools and students alike for advanced math and science classes. One such program is the Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program (APTIP), which brings AP classes into schools that are least likely to offer them and then gives students and staff the support they need to succeed. States like Colorado, Texas and Virginia, which foster APTIP programs, have seen AP participation and passing numbers skyrocket in participating schools.
Even with such programs, this is a tough nut to crack. It takes good policy and persistent support for schools and students. Yet we certainly can't content ourselves with such an uneven playing field.