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Access to AP Courses in STEM to Grow With $5M Google Gift

Fueled by a $5 million grant from the technology company Google, more than 800 public high schools will be invited to start up Advanced Placement STEM courses with a focus on attracting more female and minority students who show strong potential to succeed.

The new program—to be developed by the College Board in collaboration with the nonprofit DonorsChoose.org, the grant recipient—will work directly with teachers in qualifying schools to help them obtain the training and classroom resources they need to launch AP courses.

"There are hundreds of thousands of talented students in this country who are being left out of the STEM equation," said Jacquelline Fuller, the director of giving at Google, in a press release. "We're focused on creating equal access to advanced math and science courses, and ensuring that advanced classrooms become as diverse as the schools themselves."

Google's gift was part of a larger set of seven grants announced today under what it's calling Global Impact Awards. One other grant is focused on education. It will provide $1.8 million to the nonprofit Equal Opportunity Schools to identify 6,000 students who are deemed ready for more advanced coursework but not enrolled in such classes, and help move them into those classes.

Under the AP-focused grant, schools will be eligible to receive funding to start one or more AP courses in STEM subjects. They will receive awards ranging from $1,200 to $9,000, depending on the subject, for each new course. The money will be used for professional development to prepare teachers, as well as to acquire classroom materials, lab and technology equipment, and other resources to support the new STEM courses.

The new program will target a set of more than 800 high schools, identified through several criteria, that are deemed to have a population of students traditionally underrepresented in the STEM fields but who are ready for advanced coursework in those disciplines. One criteria was that each school during the 2010-11 academic year had 10 or more African American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Alaskan Native students, and/or 25 or more female students, with "high potential to be successful in one or more AP STEM courses that were not offered in their school," the press release said. These figures are pegged to their performance on specific sections of the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

"The data exists to identify students who have the ability to achieve but otherwise aren't getting [access]," Chris Busselle, a program manager at Google, told me. "We're excited about taking a data-driven approach to decreasing those gaps and increasing access for girls and underrepresented minorities."

The College Board press release cites data showing wide variation in AP coursetaking among students with the same high academic potential to succeed in STEM subjects. It notes, for instance, that in 2011, only three in 10 black and Hispanic students participated in AP math courses. It also points to disproportionately low rates of females taking some STEM courses. For a deeper analysis of this latter issue, check out this blog post I wrote earlier this year.

In many cases, the College Board says, students did not take AP math and science courses because they were not available. In some instances, however, minority and female students simply did not participate and "the diversity of those classrooms frequently did not reflect the diversity of the school overall."

In addition to the grants to help teachers start AP courses, they will get another incentive. All AP teachers who increase the diversity of the student body in their classrooms will receive a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift card for each student who scores a 3 or higher on an AP STEM exam. Teachers can use the gift cards to pay for additional classroom resources.

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