Minorities and Math Get Boost From Ford Foundation Grants

By Susan G. Foster — October 05, 1981 5 min read

For the past five summers, minority students from a variety of high schools located east of the Mississippi have converged on the Phillips Academy campus in Andover, Mass., to participate in (MS)--Mathematics for Minority Students.

Students who are just dabbling with the idea of a career in math or science are discouraged from applying. The daily lesson plan for students who participate in the program calls for four hours each of math and science and another four hours of mandatory study in the evenings. Each student is enrolled for three consecutive summer sessions.

(MS) is not a remedial program but an attempt to complement and expand upon material taught in high schools.

Only minority students with demonstrated abilities in math and science are accepted and there is an understanding that they will pursue a career in a technical profession once they leave high school.

Ford Awarded $1.1 Million

Elwin Sykes, (MS) director, said the program, which began in 1977, was established in response to the scarcity of blacks and other minorities in math and science professions.

In response to a national decline in math achievement, the Ford Foundation recently awarded approximately $1.1 million to nine institutions for projects to improve performance of male and female minority math students and to help math teachers improve the quality of their training.

Phillips Academy, an independent coeducational preparatory school, is the only secondary institution in the country to receive one of the foundation grants.

Benjamin F. Payton, president of Tuskegee Institute and former program officer in research for the Ford Foundation, said the prob6lem of declining math achievement scores is a national phenomenon but is particularly acute among minority students who in some instances are graduating without having been introduced to trigonometry, analytical geometry, or intermediate algebra.

The foundation’s program of “intervention grants,” he said, was devised in order to improve minimum standards in mathematics for minorities as well as the full range of students who attend public high schools.

As one extreme example of the problem, Mr. Payton cited a predominantly minority school district which did not have a single math teacher with a degree in mathematics. “The main reason minority students are not entering science and technical professions is that they are not being confronted with adequate curricula in elementary schools, middle schools, or high schools,” he said.

Special Training for Teachers

The Ford Foundation’s $316,400 grant to Phillips Academy will fund the (MS) program for two more summers and to establish the Andover-Dartmouth Institute for Teachers of Secondary School Mathematics. The teachers institute will recruit 30 teachers in 1982 for an intensive four-week training session in mathematics with emphasis on second-year algebra and pre-calculus.

Mr. Sykes said there will be some coordination between (MS) and the teachers’ institute and that to the degree possible teachers will be recruited from high schools which (MS) students attend. In most cases, he said, it is the high school math and science teachers who first recognize potential (MS) candidates.

Admission to the program is based on achievement, interest, and financial need, and students are accepted the summer after they have completed the ninth grade so that their skills can be developed at an early stage. By the time they leave the program, they will have studied two levels of algebra, pre-calculus, problematic and statistical courses unavailable in their high schools.

The first two years of the program were plagued by high attrition, even though transportation costs, course materials, and room and board at the academy are all borne by the program, according to Mr. Sykes. But, as the program developed and the number of applicants increased, the attrition rate decreased.

Only eight students out of the initial group of 30 completed the program in 1979. In 1980, 19 of 30 students did so.

Last summer, 28 of 30 students completed the program, which involved a total of 87 students. There were 175 applicants for 32 places.

The program, broadened over the years, now includes three science teachers, four math teachers, and five teaching assistants. Black and Hispanic teaching assistants tutor and serve as role models for (MS) students.

English composition was added to the curriculum two years ago as a workshp and was increased to two hours a week.

“My recommendation for the future is that all students be required to take oral expression and writing four hours a week,” Mr. Sykes said.

A program like (MS) is being considered for the midwest, according to Helen Sykes, information officer for the academy. She said it would be based in Chicago.

Other recipients of the Ford mathematics grants include the following:

Tuskegee Institute will receive a $341,000 grant to continue its Weekend College for junior-high and high-school minority udents and the Move Ahead Program (map) for its lower level college students, and to establish a math teachers’ institute.

The Border College Consortium, comprising six community colleges located along the U.S.-Mexican border, was awarded a $248,000 grant for curricular improvement, workshops, faculty conferences, training of student tutors, and activities to stimulate student interest in mathematics.

The University of New Mexico was awarded a $30,000 grant to design a comprehensive math program for rural school districts in the northern part of the state.

Lincoln University will design a math program for some 500 black Philadelphia high-school students with its $50,000 grant.

Xavier University was awarded a $29,780 grant to evaluate teaching methods used in junior and senior high schools in Louisiana. The goal is to develop a program to correct deficiencies in the teaching methods.

Fisk University was awarded $31,240 for a study to determine why blacks score lower than non-blacks on national math tests and to help develop curricula to close the gap. The study will be undertaken in cooperation with Tennessee State University.

Dartmouth College will study the difficulties minority students have had with math at college and will attempt to design a program to deal with the problem identified.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science was awarded $39,058 to establish a network of minority professional organizations in science, math, and engineering.

A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 1981 edition of Education Week as Minorities and Math Get Boost From Ford Foundation Grants