I teach at an urban high school where the student population is approximately 60% Latin@, 30% black, and 10% other. The school follows an 80-minute A/B block schedule with four classes each day. Students are required to complete four math courses to graduate including Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2, and a math elective. The school has three levels of instruction, Advanced Placement (AP), honors, and college prep. Two AP math classes are offered - AP Calculus AB and AP Statistics. There is one section of AP Calculus AB and two sections of AP Statistics. There is also one section of honors calculus and two sections of honors statistics. Despite the racial composition of the student population, approximately 50% of students taking AP Calculus are white while 25% of students taking honors Calculus are white. Meanwhile, approximately 44% of students taking AP Statistics are white while less than 15% of students taking honors statistics are white.
How students are assigned into 9th grade math courses also carries racial bias. Fifty percent of 8th graders in my district take Algebra 1, yet many are forced to retake Algebra 1 in 9th grade due to underperformance on an end-of-course exam. White students disproportionately start 9th grade in geometry, while students of color start in Algebra 1. This affects which math elective 12th graders can select given the typical sequence of Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2. White students can typically reach calculus through the normal sequence, but 9th grade students of color who take Algebra 1 must double-up in geometry and Algebra 2 during 10th grade in order to complete pre-calculus in 11th grade and calculus in 12th grade. Statistics is accessible after completing Algebra 2, making it more accessible to students starting 9th grade in Algebra 1.
It cannot be a coincidence that my school’s highest level math classes disproportionately serve white students. Enrollment in AP math classes is only restricted by successful completion of the prerequisite math courses (honors Pre-Calculus for AP Calculus or honors Algebra 2 for AP Statistics). So how are students funneled between honors and AP math? This question is the driving force behind my unit. Once the systemic issues that reinforce racial disparities within my school are acknowledged, the conversation about solving these disparities may begin.