The Miami-Dade County school district is undertaking an examination of its high school course offerings, vowing to make them more equitable after a newspaper report found a richer array of choices in wealthier neighborhoods than in poorer ones.
In a unanimous vote Jan. 19, the nine-member school board directed Superintendent Rudolph F. Crew to analyze high school course schedules across the nation’s fourth-largest district and to recommend by the end of May ways of ensuring that all students have equal access to a varied and challenging curriculum.
“This is about fairness and equity,” said Perla Tabares Hantman, the board member who introduced the measure. “All children at all high schools should have the same opportunities regardless of what area the school is in.”
An analysis by The Miami Herald,published Dec. 26,showed that high schools in low-income parts of the city offered a much narrower selection of arts, elective, and advanced courses than did those in affluent neighborhoods.
One high school offered only Spanish, for instance, while a wealthier counterpart offered seven foreign languages. One offered 31 Advanced Placement courses, while a school in a poorer area offered seven.
Joseph Garcia, the chief spokesman for the 358,000-student district, said the Herald’s analysis showed the narrowest range of course offerings at the four or five lowest-scoring schools on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, the state accountability test.
District policy requires those schools to administer double periods of mathematics or reading to students who have not passed the test, he said, leaving less time for other courses.
While the practice, known as “double dosing,” will continue at those and other schools to bring students up to state standards, he said, the district is trying to tackle part of the problem by extending the school day in a newly created “zone” of lowest-performing schools. That time will enable students to bolster their math and reading without sacrificing time for other courses, Mr. Garcia said.
Superintendent Crew is also contemplating giving the district’s regional superintendents a greater role in determining high school course offerings, rather than leaving it to principals, as has been the practice, Mr. Garcia said.
The newspaper’s findings suggest that low expectations and school leadership—not only FCAT remedial work—influence course offerings, the spokesman said.
“Dr. Crew sees this as an indicator of principal leadership,” he said. “It’s one thing to take the position that ‘my school offers courses students are interested in taking.’ It’s another to say, ‘My kids should be taking AP world history, and AP calculus, and I’m going to drive enrollment into those courses.’ ”
Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, based in Reston, Va., said the socioeconomic pattern of high school course discrepancy exists nationwide. He fears it will worsen if the federal No Child Left Behind Act places more testing mandates on high schools, as President Bush has proposed.
Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University, said practices such as double dosing only perpetuate the skills gap created by poor preparation in grades K-8. Without a systemwide acceleration, poorly prepared students are essentially sentenced to low achievement by spending so much time on remediation that they cannot advance in their coursework, he said.
He advocates wider use of “bridging” courses that have shown success in raising students’ skills and knowledge by several grade levels.
A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2005 edition of Education Week as Miami District to Study H.S. Courses With Eye to Addressing Inequities