Pre-College Influences on Educational Preparation

In the United States, educational opportunities are unevenly distributed by race and ethnicity. Racial and ethnic minority students are far more likely than white students to attend majority-minority schools, even when the former group of students is from middle- and upper-income families (Orfield, 2001). For example, more than 70 percent of African American students and 76 percent of Latino children attend schools that are majority non-white (American Sociological Association, 2003). Such schools tend to be characterized by fewer academic and financial resources, fewer credentialed teachers, fewer advanced placement courses, and higher dropout rates, even when in similar neighborhoods as predominantly white schools (American Sociological Association, 2003). Students in higher-income, predominantly white schools, in contrast, are exposed to more rigorous coursework, take more courses, and have greater exposure to college preparatory and advanced placement coursework (Camara and Schmidt, 1999). Such students are also more likely to take test preparation courses outside of regular coursework. Even among racial and ethnic minority students who attend integrated schools, segregation within schools in common; African American and other URM students are more likely to be “tracked” into vocational or lower-level academic programs, which offer little or no college preparatory content (Camara and Schmidt, 1999).

To a great extent, school-based inequities reflect patterns of racial housing segregation and inequities among localities in school funding (American Sociological Association, 2003). African American and Hispanic students, particularly those in inner-city and rural communities, are more likely to live in neighborhoods characterized by high poverty rates and few local resources for schools. Not surprisingly, average per-pupil expenditures for these schools are in some cases one-half to two-thirds lower than per-pupil expenditures in some of the wealthiest public school districts, resulting in inequities in teaching resources, teacher pay and qualifications, and physical accommodations (Orfield, 2001). As Camara and Schmidt (1999) note:

The stark differences across [standardized test] assessments and other measures collectively illustrate the inequities minorities have suffered through inadequate academic preparation, poverty, and discrimination; years of tracking into dead-end educational programs; lack of advanced and rigorous courses in inner-city schools, or lack of access to such programs when available; threadbare facilities and overcrowding; teachers in critical need of professional development; less family support and experience in higher education; and low expectation (p. 13).

In addition to inequality of educational opportunities, differences in family influences may be associated with poorer URM academic perfor-



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