An Equation for Equity

By Fields, Cheryl D. | Black Issues in Higher Education, February 20, 1997 | Go to article overview

An Equation for Equity


Fields, Cheryl D., Black Issues in Higher Education


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

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.

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