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New Data Exposes the Staggering Gap Between Rich and Poor Schools

There are huge gaps in access to AP classes and resources between schools in rich neighborhoods and those in poor ones.

If you follow education at all you don't need a database to tell you that there are huge gaps in access to AP classes and resources between students attending schools in rich neighborhoods and those in poor neighborhoods. But sometimes we need a kick in the pants to remind us exactly how deep and wide the disparities really are. Indeed, that's exactly what the Civil Rights Data Collection, a new data tool from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, gives us.

The office surveyed 72,000 schools in 7,000 school districts with more than 3,000 students and found:

"3,000 schools serving nearly 500,000 high school students offer no algebra 2 classes, and more than 2 million students in about 7,300 schools had no access to calculus classes.

Only 2 percent of the 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 are 15 percent of the students for whom algebra is the highest-level math course taken by the final year of their high school career."


Those are some pretty staggering stats that would certainly make anybody curious about how their local schools are doing. ProPublica partnered with the DOE and made a searchable database that lets users find out what's happening with an individual school, or with schools located around a particular address or zip code. Interestingly, the most shared school, as of this writing—Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach, California—is one that is actually in pretty good shape.

With its multi-million dollar homes, Manhattan Beach is one of the priciest places to live in the United States—only 4 percent of Mira Costa High's students come from low-income backgrounds. But, the tool lets you compare schools, so since I taught in Compton, CA, I decided to see how Mira Costa measures up to Compton High, which is only 10 miles away:

The numbers tell us what we might expect: Wealthy students attending school at Mira Loma are taking more AP courses and math courses than the lower income students at Compton High, and that's despite having almost the same student body size and the exact same percentage of inexperienced teachers—educators in their first or second year in the classroom.

While teacher quality and effectiveness do matter, this snapshot of these two schools certainly backs up those researchers who predict that poverty is going to be the next education reform frontier. As for what the DOE plans to do with the data, that remains to be seen. But given that 20 percent of American schoolchildren live in poverty, let's hope that this starts a national conversation about the role it plays in education.

photo via Wikimedia Commons

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