An Equation for Equity: Maryland's Prince George's County Puts Equity 2000 to the Test

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An Equation For Equity: Maryland's Prince George's County Puts Equity. 2000 to the Test

Maryland teenager Tiffanee Snow has been studying algebra since she began attending Forestville High School last fall. At first, she couldn't stand algebra. Now, she's making As.

Snow credits the innovative teaching style of her math teacher for her success. She especially likes the team approach to classwork.

"Working together helps us get through the problems better than when it's just one person doing it all by himself," Snow says.

She hasn't decided what she wants to do when she finishes school, but Snow is considering careers in either cosmetology, photography, or teaching preschool. And although she is excelling in math these days, Snow says she still doesn't see how algebra is used in the outside world.

While Forestville junior Cedric Lyles cannot offer Snow examples from the outside world, he can assure her that without mastering algebra it will be impossible for her to move on to higher forms of math.

"You can't do geometry or calculus without algebra," says Lyles, who views advanced math courses as essential to his future plans. Lyles is a musician who has set his sites on attending the Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts. Ultimately, he hopes to earn a graduate degree in business so that he can fulfill his dream of starting a music production company.

Lyles and Snow are two of the 906 students who attend Forestville High -- one of twenty comprehensive high schools in Maryland's Prince George's County, a suburb of Washington, D.C. The county was the second school system in the nation to sign up with the College Board's Equity 2000 program.

The difference between Forestville and most other schools around the country is that everyone here -- whether he or she aspires to become a cosmetologist, a surgeon or an entrepreneur -- is expected to complete algebra I and geometry by the end of the tenth grade. Subjects such as consumer math and general math no longer exist at Forestville -- or anywhere else in the county's school system.

Prince George's County is home to the largest school district in Maryland -- and the eighteenth largest in the nation. Roughly 74 percent of the student population is African American. The system's goal is to achieve 100 percent enrollment of its high school students in algebra I and geometry by the year 2000.

When the district first began its journey with Equity 2000 in 1990, Dr. Jerome Clark, Prince George's County Superintendent of Schools, admits no one anticipated just how comprehensive the reform effort would become. The program started with a $1.2 million grant from Equity 2000 and a $45,000 investment on the part of the county. Initially, only the high schools were involved. However, district officials soon realized that if the program was to succeed, they needed to prepare students long before their admission to high school.

"Initially, the ownership wasn't there at the middle school and elementary school level," says Clark. "They saw it as a high school initiative and didn't think there was anything that they had to change."

At the time, according to Clark, there were no testing mechanisms in place at the middle school level that would provide an incentive for teachers at the lower grades to enhance their programs. Since then, the county has undergone a painstaking process of reforming its entire K-12 system -- from curriculum materials, student evaluation methods and educational technology, to the training of teachers, administrators and guidance counselors. This year, the district is spending $1.4 million on Equity 2000 -- with only a modest grant coming from the College Board.

Supporting the Learning Process

"Before [Equity 2000], many of the teachers were lecturers," says Janice Briscoe, Forestville's dean of academic and student affairs. "Now the students are discovering math for themselves. They discuss it more. …