News: Quick Takes

House passes bipartisan bill granting impoverished students access to advanced math courses

A bill requiring low-income students who score high on end-of-year math tests to automatically be placed in advanced math classes passed unanimously in the House.

House Bill 986, Revise Cursive and Multiplication Report, passed Wednesday, June 6, 114-0 and now heads to the Senate.

The primary purpose of H.B. 986 is to monitor cursive writing and multiplication tables in all public schools. But Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth, and Rep. Chris Malone, R-Wake, added a provision automatically placing high-performing, low-income students in advanced math courses.

Parents still can choose not to sign up their children for advanced courses.

The lawmakers held a press conference after the vote praising the House for passing the bill and called for the Senate to do the same.

“Today, thousands of low-income students across the state came one step closer to breaking the cycle of poverty through true educational opportunity,” Hanes said. “We have passed what is perhaps the single most important piece of education policy for low-income children during my six years in the General Assembly.”

Both lawmakers cited a Charlotte Observer series documenting how impoverished students were routinely overlooked or prevented from taking advanced courses even if they scored high on the exams. The end-of-year tests are scored on a scale of one to five, with three or higher translating to proficiency.

Despite earning the highest score, thousands of low-income students were denied access to advanced courses.

“Their tickets to better academic preparation, their path from poverty, were instead given to lower scoring students from better financial conditions,” Hanes said. “Over the years these decisions were made by education specialists who ultimately decided who got a ticket to economic freedom and who got left in what seems to be a never ending cycle of poverty.”

Hanes said these decisions are subjective, and low-income students were judged as lacking behaviors that demonstrated a real aptitude for math. He called it the soft bigotry of low expectations.

When on the Wake County school board, Malone said, the school system recognized low-income students were being left behind in advanced courses.The school district expanded access to algebra to more qualified students and overall math performance improved.

“When the fastest growing occupations require math and science, it is an economic imperative to ensure all students reach their highest potentials,” Malone said.

The lawmakers argued there is a moral and constitutional imperative to passing this bill and granting these students greater educational opportunity.

“By passing this legislation and giving these low-income students the opportunity to post secondary studies, we are buying them the means to possess the intellectual capital, the social capital, and the cultural capital necessary to change their impoverished conditions,” Hanes said.