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Buffalo to offer remote access to AP courses, but critics call it a 'Band-Aid'

The Buffalo Public Schools, under scrutiny for the lack of rigorous coursework offered to middle and high school students, promises to expand opportunities to take college-level courses this year.

If an Advanced Placement course is not offered at their home school, students starting this fall will be able to link in remotely to a variety of AP classes taught at several “hub” schools around the district, officials said Tuesday.

The school district still doesn’t have final numbers enrolled for those classes, because it planned to promote the new option during the first couple weeks of school when students return, said Anne Botticelli, the district’s chief academic officer.

“We want to make sure even though we don’t have a teacher in the classroom that students have complete access to the coursework other students have,” Botticelli said.

This issue of access to advanced courses has come to the forefront after a recent report from the New York Equity Coalition – a group of civil rights, education, parent and business organizations – showed that black and Latino students, both in Buffalo and across the state, have far less access to advanced middle and high school courses than their white peers.

The report 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.

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 student are still less likely than their white peers to be enrolled, the report showed.

“Every kid can learn," said Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, "but you can’t really count on that happening if you’re not offering them every class available.”

Peoples-Stokes joined members of the Equity Coalition during a press conference on Tuesday at the Community Action Organization's Alphonso "Rafi" Greene Jr. Masten Resource Center on Fillmore Avenue to highlight the May report and their statewide campaign for greater access to these advanced courses that prepare students for success in college and careers.

For example, the report – compiled by the Education Trust-New York, a nonprofit that advocates for students of color and low-income students – showed that no middle schools in the Buffalo Public Schools offered Earth science and only four high schools offered calculus.

The district clarified that Tuesday and said one school – City Honors – actually offered eighth-grade Earth science. Botticelli, who was at Tuesday's event, also explained that the district offers eighth-graders biology for Regents credit and more than 300 students at 11 schools took the class last year.

As far as Advanced Placement courses, she said, more than 1,300 students in the district took an AP course last year. Eighty percent, however, were from three schools – City Honors, Olmsted and Hutch-Tech.

City Honors offered seven AP classes last year; International Prep and Lafayette each offered 1.

Members of the Equity Coalition are pleased Buffalo is taking positive steps by offering these AP hubs, but still consider it a “small step” or “Band-Aid” toward fixing years of inequity and structural racism within the schools.

“You can’t deny that the issue is here,” said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “When you look at the statistics, we got a lot of work to do. We have systemically made sure that we got white students through and we have systemically not given black students even the opportunity to get through.”

“This narrative that we don’t need AP courses in all the high schools because poor black kids can’t take them, they’re not prepared to do well – parents reject that notion,” said Duncan Kirkwood, a public advocate for the parent group. “It’s just not true.”

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