Closing race, poverty and gender gaps in advanced high school course-taking

I just read this press release from the The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management put out by Wiley-Blackwell:

WASHINGTON, DC—October 5, 2009—The latest research from the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management explores the wide disparities in advanced high school course-taking (such as Advanced Placement courses) among race, poverty, and gender groups in Florida.

The study finds that black and Hispanic students are less likely to enroll in advanced courses than their white peers because they arrive to high school with lower scores on eighth grade statewide exams. In fact, when black and Hispanic students have the same 8th grade test scores as whites, they are more likely than white students to enroll in the courses. Gaps in pre-high school performance also explain much of the advantage of non-poor students over poor students but do not appear to drive the higher rates of course-taking among Asians and among females.

Furthermore, despite concerns that schools serving minority and low-income students are not offering advanced courses, there are currently few such disparities in Florida. Black and Hispanic students in Florida actually attend schools that are more likely to offer advanced courses than do white students.

The findings support greater investments in disadvantaged (black, Hispanic, and poor) children long before they enter high school. The authors also suggest that a reallocation of students to different high schools is unlikely to remedy racial disparities in course-taking and may, in fact, increase them.

The findings do not seem too surprising.  I don’t imagine many people are surprised that the reason students don’t choose higher level classes such as Advanced Placement is due to lack of preparation that starts much earlier than high school.  It is clear that school districts that want to increase the diversity in advanced courses must prepare students in under-represented groups at much earlier levels.  This would give some credence to things like the “Pre-AP” program that many school districts are looking at.

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