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STEM Equity

Howard U, National Education Equity Lab Expand Access to College-Level Algebra for Underserved High School Students

Howard University and the nonprofit National Education Equity Lab have announced they are expanding a program that allows high school students in historically underserved communities to take college Algebra in their high school classrooms and earn college credit at no cost.

The program first tested in the spring included 79 high school students, with a 90% course completion rate; 82% of those students earned widely transferable college credits and a transcript from Howard University, according to a news release.

The course is part of the Equity Lab's national education justice programs, which provide college-credit courses in several subjects such as criminal justice and environmental studies; the courses' content is from partner colleges and universities, provided to students at no cost in teacher-led high school classrooms. Besides Howard University, Equity Lab's partners include Stanford University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Cornell University, Brown University, Spelman College, Barnard/Columbia University, Arizona State University, and Harvard.

This fall, twice as many students at 11 high schools are enrolled in the program, and the National Education Equity Lab will offer it to all interested Title I and Title I-eligible high schools in Spring 2023, a spokesperson said. Schools with students enrolled in the Howard Algebra I course this semester include six in New York City, three in New Jersey, one in Phoenix, and one in Philadelphia.

The college-credit course program includes both in-person and virtual guidance from educators at the high school and college levels. Students access the course through the Khan Academy platform under the guidance of their high school math teacher; throughout the self-paced coursework, students meet weekly with Howard University teaching fellows, according to a news release. Midterms and finals are administered the old-fashioned way — with pencil and paper — by the students' high school math teachers.

The program is rooted in research showing that shortfalls in math proficiency pose a critical barrier to college completion as well as to entry into STEM-related careers; the lack of access to upper-level math courses is particularly widespread in schools serving historically underserved communities. Estimates suggest that "half of all college students don't earn a passing grade in required algebra courses, preventing them from graduating or taking the higher-level math courses that are a gateway to high-earning careers in science, technology, and engineering fields," according to the National Education Equity Lab.

Howard University President Wayne Frederick, who also serves on Equity Lab's board, said the university is enthusiastic about the program because "it's probably the most scalable opportunity that I've come across during my tenure at Howard … [and because students] join a community that is backing them and providing them with that confidence that is so key to their success."

Dr. Bourama Toni, chair of Howard University's Department of Mathematics, noted that the "gating effect" of math coursework access in under-resourced schools is a solvable problem.

"This effort will help open doors of opportunity to under-resourced students around the nation who too often are gated out of educational and professional opportunities because they lack the requisite math training, by no fault of their own," Toni said. "We want to empower high school students to pass college algebra, and know that they can take on anything after that."

"This effort is about helping the higher education system reach down into the country's most underserved school districts, to help break down the 'math barriers' that too often prevent talented students from pursuing their college and career aspirations," said Leslie Cornfeld, founder and CEO of National Education Equity Lab. "We are excited to offer this course to the schools in our network."

Intel and Insight Enterprises provided support for the pilot's first year, according to the news release. Intel provided laptop kits for students and teachers, configuring and deploying the devices. In addition, students received backpacks and headsets.

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].

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