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Posted at 10:57 AM ET, 07/01/2011

New data reveals the real problem in education

CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly stated one of the classes that high school students are missing. It is Algebra 2, not Algebra 1.

Three thousand high schools across the country serving nearly half a million students had no Algebra 2 classes in the 2009-10 academic year, and more than 2 million students in about 7,300 schools had no access to calculus classes, according to federal data released this week.

The new Education Department data details the unequal resources available to the poorest and neediest students. Statistics released from what is known as the Civil Rights Data Collection, covering approximately 7,000 school districts and more than 72,000 schools, also showed:

*Schools serving mostly African American students are twice as likely to have teachers with one or two years of experience than are schools within the same district that serve mostly white students.

*Only 2 percent of students with disabilities are taking at least one Advanced Placement class.

*Students with limited English proficiency make up 6 percent of the high school population (in grades 9-12), but comprise 15 percent of the students for whom algebra is the highest-level math course taken by their final year of high school.

*Only 22 percent of local education agencies reported that they operated pre-kindergarten programs targeting children from low-income families.

To hear many modern school reformers tell it, public education’s biggest problem is a bunch of lousy teachers. The new data tells a more accurate story.

The issue of equity in education is central to educator Linda Darling-Hammond’s 2010 book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future .”

With only 1 in 10 kindergarten students from low-income families actually on track to graduate from college, Darling-Hammond, of Stanford University, shows how schools for students who live in low-income homes, students of color, and English language learners often do not have the same access to high-quality teachers, curriculum and resources as wealthier, white students. And she explains what successful systems really look like.

Yet equity is not big on the list of concerns prominent in American school reform. And as long as American school reform concentrates on high-stakes tests and public school teachers are demonized and equity issues are ignored, our problems are only going to get worse.

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By  |  10:57 AM ET, 07/01/2011

 
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