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Advanced courses often elusive for minority students in New York

Black and Latino students, both in Buffalo and across New York State, have far less access to advanced middle and high school courses than their white peers, a new analysis of state data shows.

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

While those advanced courses are seen as giving students a leg up on college and career, the report highlights the gaps in access and opportunity for many students of color.

A few examples:

• No middle schools in the 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 as well as in suburban districts in Erie County.

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

The report noted that black and Latino students are under-enrolled in these courses because they disproportionately attend “high-needs” schools where these courses are not offered. But even when schools do offer these courses, black and Latino students are still less likely than their white peers to be enrolled, the report shows.

“New York’s education system routinely denies students of color equitable access to the courses that will prepare them for college, careers and active citizenship,” Ian Rosenblum, executive director of the Education Trust-New York, said in a prepared statement. “Addressing these challenges is both an educational justice and an economic imperative, and we call on state leaders to adopt the solutions that will give all students the high-quality education they deserve.”

The Education Trust-New York, a nonprofit organization that advocates for students of color and low-income students, compiled and analyzed the figures based on 2016-17 course enrollment data from school districts and the New York State Education Department.

Local members of the statewide coalition, including the Buffalo Urban League and Buffalo’s District Parent Coordinating Council, said they planned to meet on the issue  with officials in the district, which has routinely lagged behind on graduating kids and preparing them for college.

“We must do better,” said Samuel L. Radford, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, “and we call on local and state leaders to act immediately to ensure all students have access to these critical courses."

Kriner Cash, superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools, acknowledged the disparities.

“There’s no argument with the report,” Cash said. “Throughout my career I have found this inequality in course rigor and opportunity to be true.”

But the superintendent pointed to a number of district initiatives, either ongoing or in the works, aimed at preparing more students for this type of academic rigor.

Cash also put some of the onus on parents to make sure their kids are doing their part in the classroom.

“If we all work together and put the pressure where it needs to be applied, equalizing this playing field is within our reach,” Cash said.

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