sciences and mathematics in the United States that year.2 Clearly, these are no longer programs only for an elite audience; participation in some form of advanced study has become almost the norm for students seeking admission to the most selective colleges. Advanced study programs can affect students’ future opportunities, and the quality and availability of these programs have become central concerns.

As the United States becomes more diverse, racial and socioeconomic gaps persist in high school students’ access to and success in advanced study. While minority participation in advanced mathematics and science courses has increased substantially during the past 20 years (National Science Foundation [NSF], 1999), inner-city and rural schools, especially those with high percentages of minority and poor students, are still less likely to offer these courses (Ma and Willms, 1999). Many schools in low-income communities remain ill equipped to provide advanced study, in part because they are less likely than schools with greater resources to have highly qualified teachers or sufficient laboratories, equipment, and other curriculum materials (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Ferguson, 1991, 1998; Greenwald, Hedges, and Laine, 1996; Murnane, 1996; Wright, Horn, and Sanders, 1997). In addition to these gaps, there are parallel disparities in access within racially and ethnically diverse schools. In these schools, African American, Hispanic, and Native American students and those of low socioeconomic status are much less likely than white or Asian American students to enroll in upper-level mathematics and science courses even when such courses are available (Atanda, 1999; Horn, Nunez, and Bobbitt, 2000; Ma and Willms, 1999). Those who do enroll are much less likely to fare as well as white or Asian American students on national examinations. These facts represent a major challenge for advanced study programs.

A number of additional trends and concerns make this an appropriate time to analyze programs for advanced study of science and mathematics:

  • Changes in science and mathematics—Rapid advances (e.g., the tremendous progress in molecular biology) mean that traditional course content may be inadequate for the future.

  • Demands for accountability—There is increasing pressure from policymakers and the public for school accountability, and participation in advanced study is often used as a measure of school quality.

  • Connections to earlier years and higher education—Since learning of science and mathematics tends to be hierarchical, advanced programs in

2  

These numbers are estimates based on IB Worldwide Statistics.



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