Creating Paths to College and the Urgency of Now

Oct 29, 2013

by Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt Bryant

(cross-posted from PhilanTopic)

I was a STEM whiz as a child - a seemingly unlikely thing for a girl, and an African-American girl at that, to be. In middle school, I attended a magnet program and learned computer programming while taking advanced math and science classes. In high school, I took calculus and physics and learned a computer programming language. My primary interest was engineering, so my school district helped me attend summer programs at area universities. That experience landed me a job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the age of 17.

Although I chose public policy instead of engineering as my life's work, those were the opportunities that put me on a path to college. My middle school and high school offered classes that nurtured my interests in mathematics and science. I had great teachers who used hands-on learning to take basic lessons to the next level. I remember our physics teacher explaining the science behind breaking boards martial arts-style and wading in the Chesapeake River in hip-high boots to learn about plant life. I also had guidance counselors who knew me personally, connected me to summer opportunities that allowed me to cultivate my academic interests, and walked me through the college application process.  My family couldn't afford to pay for college. Without these opportunities, it would have been far more difficult to continue my education.

Unfortunately, most low-income African American and Hispanic children cannot access the kinds of transformative educational opportunities necessary to put them on a path to college and, eventually, out of poverty and into the middle class. Nationally, only 65 percent of high schools with the highest enrollments of African-American and Hispanic students offer algebra II, compared to 82 percent of low-minority high schools. An analysis of the nation's  fifty largest school districts reveals that while African-American boys comprise 16 percent of the high school population, they account for only 12 percent of the enrollment in physics courses and 7 percent of the enrollment in calculus courses. Youth of color also have fewer experienced teachers in their classrooms. In the fifty largest school districts in the U.S., 15 percent of the teacher workforce in high schools with large minority populations is either a first- or second-year teacher, compared to 11 percent in high schools with low minority populations. While new teachers often bring innovative methods and ideas into the classroom, more experienced teachers generally are better classroom managers and are able to more effectively facilitate higher-order thinking skills and their meaningful application, leading to better outcomes for students. In these same districts, there are fewer high school counselors to help students navigate school successfully and prepare for postsecondary opportunities. Without sufficient school counselors to guide students on a path to college readiness, young people may flounder in lower-level courses that lead nowhere. This is particularly true for students of color and low-income students, who historically have not matriculated as frequently as their white and more affluent peers. READ MORE>>


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