What happened to calculus classes in high schools?
Posted June 20
Updated June 21
According to a new report from the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, fewer than half of high schools in the U.S. offer calculus courses and 63 percent offer physics courses.
The data covered the course rates of more than 50 million students at over 95,000 schools throughout the U.S. in 2013-2014.
According to the report, between 10 to 25 percent of high schools failed to offer several core courses in the typical high school math and science education. These courses include Algebra I and II, geometry, biology and chemistry.
"Students can’t succeed at higher-level coursework if we don’t even give them the chance," U.S. News noted in its report on the study.
Racial disparity also stands out in the data as most of the students without access to math and science were of color. According to the study, 25 percent of the schools with the highest Black and Latino populations did not offer Algebra II — a third did not offer chemistry.
There may be numerous reasons why upper-level math courses aren't consistently offered in schools, including a lack of resources, shortage of staff and insufficient student demand, causing students to "miss out on important learning opportunities," according to the Foundation for Excellence in Educations' report on the study.
But some critics said that the lower amounts of upper-level math courses offered is not such a bad thing.
According to the Deseret News, "Some critics say the math skills now demanded of many high school students are simply harder than they need to be, even for the majority of college-bound students. But the result is many students struggle with complex math that, critics argue, they will not need for most college majors or even high-level careers."
In a column for Forbes, Steven Salzberg of Johns Hopkins University recommended getting rid of calculus classes in high school to clear the way for computer programming and statistics courses that teach more logical reasoning.
But the U.S. News says high-level math remains relevant for students entering college and the job market, while the Foundation for Excellence in Education says the answer is finding the balance between student demand and needs and the right amount of courses offered.
"Colleges view chemistry and Algebra II as vital indicators of students’ ability and aptitude. And these two courses are essential to preparing more students for a future in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) that offer high-paying jobs and add to our nation’s economic potential," according to U.S. News.
The foundation says it own Course Access program is a solution to finding that balance between student needs and demands. Course Access allows families to select courses for their students from a online catalog. Course Access is meant to "maximize the use of resources, better serve students and ensure districts are evolving with the needs of the 21st century student," according to the foundation.