Walter Fields’s 15-year-old daughter is a sophomore at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J. She scored advanced proficient on state math tests in middle school and received an A in algebra in eighth grade.
For reasons that mystify Fields and his wife, their daughter was not recommended for the ninth-grade geometry course that would keep her on the track to Advanced Placement calculus her senior year. Only when they contacted the principal and the math department chair was she placed in that advanced course. The geometry teacher encouraged her dream to become an engineer. She had a B most of the year but slipped to a C because of the demands of lettering in basketball and track, her father said.
Now she is in a fix. Her Algebra 2 teacher made clear on Parents Night, her father said, that “she did not like school sports and suggested students needed to choose between being involved in a sport and being enrolled in her course.” The teacher has proved to be, her father said, very discouraging. His daughter has struggled.
“The teacher’s response to our questions regarding our daughter’s performance was ‘she just doesn’t seem to get it,’ ” Fields said. “When we pressed the teacher she curtly suggested that maybe this wasn’t the right class for our daughter.” Her geometry teacher was apparently so alarmed that she told Fields’s daughter to come see her if she needed help. Fields and his wife are well-educated African Americans. He thinks Columbia High is hindering his daughter’s progress because of her race. He and other parents are preparing to file a lawsuit on that issue. Fifty-six percent of Columbia students are black, but just 14.4 percent of AP calculus students in the 2011-12 school year were of that race. Seventy-three percent were white.