Whether it’s lack of resources or lack of opportunity, a new study from The Education Trust finds that Black and Latino students across the country are being denied valuable educational opportunities.
While achievement gaps are frequently discussed and spotlighted, the roots of those gaps don’t receive as much attention. The study examines why and how Black and Latino students have unequal access to advanced coursework. As a student progresses through K–12 these are learning opportunities that can lead to success in higher education and in future careers.
The report, titled “Inequities in Advanced Coursework: What’s Driving Them and What Leaders Can Do,” and an accompanying website with state-by-state details and action plans showcase how these opportunities are being denied and offers suggestions on what can be done to eradicate the inequity.
“Not only did we want to look under the hood, but we also wanted to provide state advocates and state decision-makers with the right solutions to solve the problems in their states,” said Kayla Patrick, P–12 data and policy analyst for The Education Trust and one of the authors of the report. “We can’t discuss achievement gaps without discussing paths and opportunities.”
Utilizing data from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection and Common Core of Data, the report shows how Black and Latino students are being denied advanced coursework opportunities throughout K–12. For example, Black students represent 16% of overall enrollment in elementary schools, but make up only 9% of gifted and talented programs. Latino students represent 28% of students enrolled and only 18% in gifted and talented programs.
At the middle school level, Black students make up 15% of eighth graders, but only 10% of those students enrolled in Algebra I. At the high school level, Latino students comprise nearly 25% of students, but only 21% of students enrolled in AP courses. The data shows that Black and Latino students are successful in advanced courses when given the opportunity.
“For this particular study, we identified two main drivers for the gaps in opportunity,” said Patrick. “The first driver is the schools that are serving mostly Black and Latino students have fewer seats in those courses. Previous research has shown that resources—whether that be dollars or quality teachers really go into that bucket. The second driver that we identified is that the schools that we would consider racially diverse are least likely to fairly enroll Black and Latino students in advanced coursework opportunities.”
Patrick said educator bias can be addressed in teacher preparation programs and all teachers should be working to set high expectations. She added that teacher prep programs should encourage conversations about changing mindsets. Principals and counselors also play a role, such as creating a master schedule that allows for Black and Latino students to enroll in advanced coursework opportunities.
Dr. Edmund Adjapong, program director in the department of educational studies at Seton Hall University and a former New York City middle school science teacher, said positive teacher mindsets and effective student engagement are essential.
“If resources are available, the biggest challenge is getting teachers to really believe in the power, brilliance and genius of their students,” said Adjapong. “A lot of teachers, especially who work with Black and Latino students, see these young people as being deficient just by virtue of who they are and where they come from. That they may not be able to complete more rigorous or advanced placement coursework, which is really unfortunate.
“In teacher ed, we need to work on how our educators perceive young people and also work on educators being closely tied to the communities that these young people come from,” he added. “If they’re more tied to the communities, they’ll have a better understanding of these young people, their families and backgrounds, and I think that will help push them to recognize [talent].”
The study notes that state leaders can set clear and measurable goals for advancing access, use data to identify barriers, invest money to expand advanced coursework opportunities, expand eligibility and provide sufficient support for students to prepare for advanced coursework.
Patrick points to an automatic enrollment policy for schools that have advanced courses which Black and Latino students are not sufficiently accessing. This would mean that students who meet a certain threshold, such as being proficient or above proficient on the state test, are automatically enrolled in the next most rigorous course.
“The state data tool allows you to dive deep into the context in your particular state,” said Patrick. “These are solutions that really solve the challenges and would help state advocates and district leaders solve the challenges in their states.”
Examples include in Colorado, state advocates have pushed for funding for universal screening for gifted and talented programs. In Florida, advocates are seeking funding for better professional development for teachers.
“Some of these things will require an increase in funding, but there are simple things that states can do, like requiring that districts inform families about the availability of advanced coursework opportunities in their school and also the benefits of being enrolled in it,” said Patrick. “We need to make sure that Black and Latino students are really having a fair chance to enroll in these advanced coursework opportunities.”