At Florida middle schools, students can sign up for Algebra II Honors and biology—classes that they would typically take in ninth or 10th grade. District officials say introducing rigorous high school work in middle school is tied to higher levels of student achievement. It also offers an advantage to students who want to build a competitive résumé for college. But some education experts are concerned that this trend in Florida and in other states is leaving minority students behind.
"The trend has sparked a lively debate nationwide between those who say middle-school students aren't ready to be treated like high school students and those arguing that the brightest children shouldn't be held back because minorities aren't signing up for certain courses," the Orlando Sentinel reports. The newspaper conducted an analysis and found that most Florida middle-school students who take advanced classes are white, even in schools where black and Latino students are the majority. At one middle school, for example, 93 percent of the students taking high school geometry are white, even though white students make up only 29 percent of the school's student body.
Scholars say it's common for college-educated parents to encourage their kids to enroll in advanced classes that prepare them for college, which might explain why minority students, who are less likely to have college-educated parents, are not signing up for high school classes in middle school. Florida school officials say they are not tracking students by ability, a practice that has led civil rights groups to take legal action against districts in Georgia, Texas, and Massachusetts. But critics of the trend say it is only a matter of time before these disparities result in a civil rights lawsuit.
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