Student Achievement

STEM From a Civil Rights Perspective

By Liana Loewus — May 28, 2014 2 min read
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At a daylong symposium, civil rights leaders, educators, government officials, and program directors gathered to discuss ways to increase equity in science, technology, engineering, and math education.

Wade Henderson, the president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, kicked off the May 27 event by speaking about an “ongoing, systematic, nationwide crisis in education.”

“Students of color, students with disabilities, and those living in high-poverty communities lack equal access to basic opportunities they clearly need in order to graduate high school and be adequately prepared for college and family-supporting careers,” he said.

The event, hosted by the Leadership Conference and ETS, took place just 10 days after the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which outlawed racial segregation in schools.

The conversation throughout the day was (to put it lightly) wide-ranging, touching on topics from early-childhood education to Advanced Placement access to teacher preparation to the common core.

Here are some highlights:

  • Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights: “Only half of our high schools offer calculus. When we start there, we start from the proposition that we do not have access for kids.” She also urged attendees to look at the OCR data released in March, which found widespread educational inequity among disadvantaged youths.
  • David Coleman, the president and CEO of the College Board and lead writer of the Common Core State Standards: He pointed to race and gender disparities among students taking the AP Computer Science exam (which I wrote about here). “It’s no longer enough for the College Board to offer these opportunities and not acknowledge the inequities that we see. ... While it may not be our fault, it is most definitely our problem.”
  • David Johns, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans: In a rousing keynote, he spoke about White House initiatives aimed at improving educational outcomes for African Americans, including My Brother’s Keeper. Through that program, the administration is working with businesses and foundations to empower young men of color.
  • Wade Henderson: "[T]he era of pick-and-shovel jobs is long gone. Those who would support themselves in the 21st century need a high school diploma and more: career training, an associate degree or, ideally, a four-year college degree. That’s why civil rights groups strongly support the Common Core State Standards.” Interestingly, Henderson didn’t elaborate on his organization’s support for the standards—and most of the other speakers steered clear of that debate, as well. Only Coleman talked about the need to “abandon a mile-wide inch-deep” approach to math instruction.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.