Wednesday, December 26

Study: Less than half of NYC high schools offer physics

Although the city's schoolchildren aren't heading back to their classrooms for another week, I'm back to work. I'm thinking there won't be too much school-related news until 2008 -- even the DOE wouldn't roll out a new initiative between Christmas and New Year's, right? — so for the next few days I'm planning to post about interesting articles and ideas that I just didn't get to this fall.

First up: a recent article in the student newspaper of Stony Brook University about the state of high school science education in New York City. A Stony Brook researcher has been examining what kinds of science courses the city's high schools offer; she found that more than half of high schools did not offer physics during the 2004-2005 school year (I would imagine that the percentage has gone down, given the proliferation since that time of small schools). The researcher also found that a lack of advanced science courses correlates with students' socioeconomic status. Schools with higher proportions of poor and minority students are less likely to offer advanced science courses. On the one hand, this seems intuitive: we know that poor and minority students are more likely to receive inadequate math and science instruction before high school, making them ill prepared to take physics.

But reading articles like this one reminds me that the "soft bigotry of low expectations" is alive and well. An assistant principal at Townsend Harris, which has many advanced science courses, is quoted in the article as saying, "For many of the kids in other schools their goal isn't physics. It's to be able to count their change so they aren't ripped off when they buy food or to be able to read their prescription so they can take care of themselves when they're sick." Those may be the horizons that poor students can see, but their teachers can see farther. Obviously, someone who can't count change can't pass the physics Regents exam — but shouldn't that be the goal? Simply getting a kid ready to deal with the daily math he'll face in the work world or in the first year of a basic college program is a major accomplishment in many places — but doesn't that still sell the kid short?

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