College of Education > News and Publications > 2016: 10-12 news > Study cites inequities in access to advanced courses in Pennsylvania high schools

Study cites inequities in access to advanced courses in Pennsylvania high schools

Students enrolled in many schools in Pennsylvania – and in the Philadelphia School District in particular – have less access to advanced courses in English language arts, social studies, mathematics and science than their counterparts in other schools, according to a study by Ed Fuller, associate professor of educational leadership in the College of Education.

Students enrolled in many schools in Pennsylvania – and in the Philadelphia School District in particular – have less access to advanced courses in English language arts, social studies, mathematics and science than their counterparts in other schools, according to a study by Ed Fuller, associate professor of educational leadership in the College of Education.

“Because not all schools offer advanced courses, many students do not have the opportunity to enroll in courses that will prepare them well for the rigors of college,” Fuller said. “Given that the current and future economic well-being of states is largely dependent on the brain power available in a state, the Commonwealth should ensure greater access to advanced courses to all students. Failure to do so is not only an injustice to many students around the Commonwealth, but also will unnecessarily constrain the economy of the Commonwealth,” he said.

Fuller’s research shows less access to advanced courses in schools that enroll fewer than 300 students in the 11th and 12th grades; enroll large proportions of students living in poverty; enroll large proportions of students of color; are located in large cities, especially Philadelphia; and are identified as charter schools.

Fuller’s study uses data from the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile to examine which Pennsylvania schools provide their students with access to at least one advanced course in English language arts, social studies, mathematics and science.

The most consistent finding in prior research and in this analysis is that smaller schools were less likely to offer advanced courses, particularly in mathematics and science. The impact of the number of 11th and 12th grade students was, by far, the school characteristic most strongly associated with offering an advanced course.

Other findings include:

  • A lower percentage of 11th- and 12th-grade African-American and Hispanic students were enrolled in schools that offer advanced courses.
  • A lower percentage of brick-and-mortar charter schools offered advanced courses as compared to traditional public schools.
  • Without adjusting the results by any other school characteristics, schools that enrolled greater than 50 percent students of color were much less likely to offer advanced courses. Once the analysis was adjusted for student enrollment and school characteristics, schools serving at least 60 percent students of color had lower odds of offering at least one advanced course in mathematics and science. Regardless of the effects of other factors, the results made very clear that students in schools with high concentrations of students of color were less likely to offer advanced courses.
  • A lower percentage of high-poverty schools than low-poverty schools offered advanced courses. This finding was particularly true with respect to science and mathematics. However, when adjusted for school enrollment and school characteristics, the odds of a high-poverty school offering advanced courses were significantly lower only for the English language arts and social studies subject areas.
  • Schools in the Philadelphia School District generally have lower odds of offering advanced courses than schools across the state. The percentage of Philadelphia School District schools offering advanced courses was substantially lower than the average for other urban districts and the average for all schools in the Commonwealth. Even after adjusting the results for student enrollment and the student characteristics of schools, the Philadelphia School Districts schools still had lower odds of offering advanced courses across all four subject areas.
  • Schools in districts with greater actual instructional expenses per student had greater odds of offering advanced courses. This was true with respect to offering at least one advanced course in each of the four subject areas as well as across all four subject areas combined.

“In short, money matters with respect to the ability of schools to offer advanced courses, because offering advanced courses can incur additional costs to schools. Moreover, because advanced courses often have smaller class sizes, they can be more costly to staff,” Fuller said.

To read the full study, visit Fuller's blog.

Annemarie Mountz (October 2016)