Math and Science in the Big City

By Sean Cavanagh — May 21, 2009 2 min read
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Two stories in today’s newspapers highlight efforts to improve math and science education in major cities, one of which is well under way in Los Angeles, while the other is just getting off the ground in Detroit.

A story in the Los Angeles Times describes a pilot program taking place in six schools in the city that aims to boost students’ interest in computer science. So far, it seems to be having success reaching minority students, according to the story. Over the last five years, the program helped double the number of African- American students taking Advanced Placement computer science and tripled the number of Latinos and girls who were enrolling, according to the Times.

Called the Computer Science Equity Alliance, the program is supported with National Science Foundation funding, according to the story. The program’s backers, who include Joanna Goode of the University of Oregon, hope to expand it to 20 more schools, with additional federal funding.

In Detroit, construction is under way on a new math and science charter high school on the city’s riverfront, according to the Detroit News. The new school is to be connected to a similarly themed middle school, which is linked to the Detroit Science Center. The high school is expected to receive a major boost from a pair of philanthropies, the Thompson Education Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, to the tune of $15 million, according to the story. Backers of the program hope the schools will support urban revitalization on Detroit’s east side and draw more families back to the financially beleaguered city.

A major question, as the story points out, is whether this development will augur efforts to allow more charter schools in Motown. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he hopes more charter schools will take hold in Detroit (he’s also promised more federal funding as a reward for school innovation in the city), and new Mayor Dave Bing had until recently served on the board of a group that oversees public school academies in the city, including the math and science school, the News reports.

Of course, in order to prepare students for middle and high school math and science, it helps to begin early. Earlier this month, I wrote about a University of Michigan venture to improve elementary school science instruction in Detroit in about 20 schools by building students’ scientific-reasoning skills. (Here’s a photo from one participating school, to the right.)

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