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Students Still Have Unequal Access To Educational Opportunities

Unequal Education Report

The Huffington Post   Emmeline Zhao First Posted: 06/30/11 12:17 PM ET Updated: 08/30/11 06:12 AM ET

Amid efforts in education reform, students across the country still face large disparities in educational resources and opportunities, according to a report released today by the U.S. Department of Education.

Key findings from the 2009-2010 Civil Rights Data Collection reveal that of the 7,000 sampled school districts, 3,000 do not offer algebra II classes to high school students, and more than 7,300 high schools serving 2 million students do not offer calculus courses. Overall, girls are underrepresented in physics and boys are underrepresented in algebra II.

"These data show that far too many students are still not getting access to the kinds of classes, resources and opportunities they need to be successful," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement Thursday.

Just 2 percent of students with disabilities are enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement course. Students with limited English proficiency comprise 6 percent of high school students across the country, but also comprise 15 percent of the population that have taken algebra by the time they graduate from high school.

The data released today are from Part 1 of a two-part study -- Part 1 collected enrollment data, and Part 2 focused on end-of-year data. Results from Part 2 will be released in the fall.

A ProPublica analysis of the CRDC data found that in some states, students in impoverished areas have less access to advanced programs and special programs than their more affluent counterparts.

Florida is an exception. In a state where the poor and wealthy are segmented across districts, students have about equal access to high-level courses, and the state leads the country in the percentage of high school students enrolled in AP and advanced math courses. Pedro A. Noguera, an education professor at New York University, told ProPublica:

“The fact that some states have eliminated these disparities proves that if we make this a priority of policy it can be done."

A few caveats come with the data. The numbers show, for example, that Maryland boasts a high percentage of students in AP courses, but that enrollment is high-poverty schools is low.

Kansas lies on the other end of the spectrum, opposite Florida. The report shows that Kansas has some of the largest opportunity gaps in the country, where the most impoverished schools are fewer students taking advanced courses.

This report comes in light of calls for education reform for equal access to opportunity across the country, as well as changes to performance evaluation systems and programs.

ProPublica has created a tool that allows for easy searching and comparing across school districts, using the CRDC data. The entire database is also available on the CRDC website.

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