Academic Courses and Race

I gave a presentation on Advanced Placement (AP) courses to perspective families last Thursday on the campus of Houston Christian. In preparation for my talk, I put together a power point to showcase the many great things our faculty members have done with the 15 plus AP courses offered. Many students take AP courses in hopes of better preparing their application for college. According to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, that might not be a bad idea. Here is how they weigh what is important:

Courses selected                                                   82%

SAT Scores                                                            46%

Class Rank                                                            42%

Overall Grades                                                      39%

Essay                                                                       14%

Work/School Activity                                          6%

Still, as I noted in a blog post before, minority students continue to face long odds when it comes to academic and college success.

Due to much of my academic work over the past 8 years of work with the College Board and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s AP Center, I have come to understand the complex nature of race, schools, and demanding courses. As a so-called expert in my area and one who is very active in areas dealing with race and curriculum, I have drawn a number of conclusions about the plight of under-prepared minority students. For one, many come from communities in which academic work has not always been valued. This is complex in that minority students, especially those coming from black families, are often still dealing with past institutional problems linked to Jim Crow. But a larger problem is working past the concept of instant gratification. For many Americans, especially blacks growing up in communities that look to those who used musical or athletic skills to get rich quick, academics can be the long road.

There is much debate among academics about whether AP courses are truly college-level, with studies regularly coming out that either question the program or praise it. But even AP skeptics acknowledge that the program is popular with students and parents, that admissions offices value it as an indicator of rigor in instruction, and that AP courses are frequently among the most challenging in high schools. As such, who takes AP matters — and educators have increasingly focused on data from the AP program to see whether the program’s emphasis in admissions is likely to hurt minority applicants and what the participation rates say about the preparation of a diverse pool of students for admission to top colleges.

Students of color (SOC) face challenges that many of their white counterparts will never experience. For one, black students disappear in the more advanced courses. In high school, students of color are thought to be ill prepared to enroll in courses such as AP English, AP European History, or AP Calculus. Teachers, many who draw false conclusions, often assume that students of color have other non-academic interest. I think this is true for many, but not just SOC. In ten years of teaching, I have had a total of ten SOC. I am not sure Advanced Placement courses help or hurt this matter. Although high school faculty members are teaching college (usually first or second year) courses, many tend to want students who will do well on the exam; in many ways I am the same way; but, I do take risks with students; I think it is important that many experience more than the typical high school level curriculum.

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4 thoughts on “Academic Courses and Race

  1. You said: “Students of color (SOC) face challenges that many of their white counterparts will never experience.” Is fault being placed here? Why do you include the Asian community? You know very well they are disproportionately represented in AP courses. They are “of color”, arent they? Please be more specific. Do you mean Hispanic and Blacks? And are you including immigrant Africans. You should know they too are over represented in many universities so much so, that you hear calls for set- asides for “US Blacks” only. I think if other communites are forced to hold to verbal obstacles, you should as well. Its way too much broad brushing to say “people of color” are not represented in AP courses.
    And, where is the proof that teachers are assuming that blacks dont want to be in AP courses? Aside from noticing the skin color of the white and asian students in AP courses, consider some of the positive attributes that might justify the “No Color” peoples success in AP courses. Two parents at home. How much time their parents spent with them in homework. How well they communicated with their parents. The students realistic outlook on achievement (do they want to achieve themself or “get theirs” being a rap star.) I am sure you have heard this before, but why is it dismissed for the unproven “conspiracy” of some holding back others?

  2. There is a myth that all Asian students represent the “super student.” Though a number do well, there are a vast number that do not. But, when I say SOC, yes, statistics do show that blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians that have been less prepared due to historical factors, but also due to a level of being unprepared with the skills needed.

    There are teachers — and yes — there are, that have created systems to keep students out of AP courses out of fear that their work will reflect poorly on the teacher. I will look for the survey done on this.

  3. Eddie, interesting post. I just viewed the report card for my daughter’s public school based on TEA ratings. The school shared testing results by percentage including a breakdown of categories, subject areas, race, socio-economics, etc. Sadly, the African American population was very low scoring compared to the norm on campus and statewide. I was … See Moresurprised at this, and wondered where the breakdown occurs. The minority performance, overall, was nearly average, but the African American sub-population was unusually low. This discourages me – Do you believe there is a correlation between lower grade struggles and taking the upper courses at the secondary level? It seems logical, but I’m not sure. I would love to see greater diversity across the board – stats like these (as i saw the state avgs as well) are depressing.

  4. Funny, you say Asians are the super minority. Ive heard that used to defuse the stark contrast of blacks and asians. Its not very effective, however. The proof is in the communities. And, very important, the similarities in regards to crime and treatment of their fellow man in their native countries. Norway, very similar to criminal behaviour and values to the culture of the US upper midwest. The behaviour is connected to where people come from. I dont see much effort to draw distinctions among whites from the civil rights moralists. Compare Jewish intellect and accomplishment to Appalachia whites. Whites are all the same?
    You said:
    “there are, that have created systems to keep students out of AP courses out of fear that their work will reflect poorly on the teacher. I will look for the survey done on this.”
    –Well, find that survey if you must, but a survey doesnt prove a thing. Calling someone a bigot or their actions racist requires proof. Survey is not that proof. If you scream fire, there had better be a fire. Its too easy to just say because some people do poor it must be others fault. That teachers have taken on the roll of social worker is an indicator that lack of a whole family structure–mom and a dad at home– severely harms a child. The added cost of this and the blind demand that all students must come out the same, I dont blame a teacher who doesnt want to play cheerleader, life coach, mom, dad, friend, health advisor,educator and somewhere squeeze in a life for themself. Its an impossible demand. Excusing dead-beat parenting for centuries past slavery is just another surrendering of responsibility to instant gratification. The ransom has been paid and then some. Lets move forward. Can we?

    ” statistics do show that blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians that have been less prepared due to historical factors, but also due to a level of being unprepared with the skills needed.”
    –What? Statistics show this? “Have been less prepared due to historical factors.”?
    –What historical factors. Slavery? If you draw a line to the condition of American Indians prior to the european bad guys, were “conditions” very different from today? How much better prepared are conditions in Senegal, Ghana or Haiti yesterday or today? The recent arrival of Hispanics to the grievance of white american treatment, is politically obvious. But I am often surprised by the people who include them. It is very disingenuous.

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