Are Our Assumptions About Recipients of Higher Education Misleading?

The issue of advanced education has always been a topic of debate. Discussions about gifted programs, acceleration, ability grouping, or honors courses have sparked questions about the necessity and effectiveness of such programs among school leaders and equity advocates.

The controversy has intensified, particularly due to the underrepresentation of Black, Hispanic, and low-income groups in these programs. As a result, many public schools have opted to reduce or eliminate advanced services, citing discrimination and ineffectiveness as primary reasons (see San Francisco, Cleveland, Culver City, and others).

Despite concerns about equity, parents and caregivers do not necessarily share schools’ views on reducing or eliminating advanced programs. Reports from San Francisco indicate that many parents sought alternatives when advanced math courses were scaled back in public schools. Moreover, in a recent referendum, over 80% of voters supported reinstating algebra in middle school, showing a disconnect between parental preferences and school policies.

To gather more comprehensive data, a partnership was established last year to survey parents directly about their experiences with advanced education. Data from three monthly EdChoice/Morning Consult surveys revealed that nearly 50% of parents reported their children participating in some form of advanced education, contradicting the U.S. Department of Education’s estimates. Participation rates varied by income and race, with Black families showing similar participation rates to non-Hispanic white families and higher rates than public school averages.

While participation rates for advanced education among low-income students were lower, Black families had comparable levels of participation to other racial groups. This suggests that Black families may be accessing advanced services through various means, highlighting disparities in access among different demographic groups.

Table 1. Parent-Reported Participation of Children in School-Based Advanced Programs (N = 1,029)

Group Total Overall 49% Black 48% Asian 64% Non-Hispanic White 47% Hispanic 53% Low Income 34% Middle Income 43% High Income 66% Urban 61% Suburban 48% Small Town 31% Rural 37%

Source: Morning Consult National Tracking Poll #2303093, March 15–17, 2023

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