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Editorial: Failure to challenge

It is difficult to describe the sinking feeling of being passed over, considered unworthy or unable to perform at the same academic level as one’s peers, simply because of the color of one’s skin.

But it happens far too often.

It happens in Buffalo and New York State and elsewhere to black and Latino students, who are not challenged to learn and grow to their fullest. Someone has decided that they are incapable of rigorous academic study. This has been going on for years, to the detriment of countless children whose potential is never reached and to the detriment of the greater community.

A new report released by the New York Equity Coalition – a group of civil rights, education, parents and business organizations – zeros in on the disparities on a small set of “gatekeeper” courses, such as middle school algebra and Earth science or high school calculus, physics and advanced placement courses.

The access to such advanced courses is obstructed for many students of color, according to the report.

Consider:

• No middle schools in Buffalo Public Schools offer Earth science.

• Only four high schools in the Buffalo Public Schools offer calculus.

• White students are twice as likely to be enrolled in high school calculus than black students, both within Buffalo Public Schools and suburban districts in Erie County.

• The same pattern exists for students enrolled in Advanced Placement math or science courses.

According to the report, black and Latino students are actually under-enrolled in these courses. Those students disproportionately attend “high-needs” schools where these courses are not offered. Still, disparity exists even when schools offer these courses given that black and Latino students are still less likely than their white peers to be enrolled.

Ian Rosenblum, executive director of the Education Trust-New York, best described “New York’s education system” that “routinely denies students of color equitable access to the courses that will prepare them for college, careers and active citizenship.”

He went on to talk about how addressing these “challenges is both an educational justice and an economic imperative.” Rosenblum called on state leaders to adopt solutions that would result in students getting the “high-quality education they deserve.”

Rosenblum’s comments were echoed by local members of the statewide coalition. Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash voiced his own frustration, based on his decades of experience in education and where he has seen this exact inequality in academic course rigor and opportunity. “There’s no argument with the report,” Cash said.

The superintendent is working on the problem. He also wants parents to ensure their kids are working hard and doing all they can in the classroom.

All students should have equal opportunity for academic rigor that can give them a competitive edge in school and in life. When one group is blocked, everyone loses.

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