The ABC7 data journalism team analyzed thousands of records from the U.S. Department of Education's 2018 Civil Rights Data Collection and found 98% of Black students and more than 99% of Latino, Asian, and White students across the San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley metro area have access to advanced courses.
In the San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara metro area 96% of Latino students and 99% of Black students have access to advanced courses. Nearly 100% of Asian and White students have access as well.
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"Those data points are great, they are almost even. Very close to being even," said Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford's graduate school of education. "That's not the case in other counties necessarily across the U.S."
However, 42% of Asian students and 33% of White students are enrolled in AP classes in the San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley metro area compared to 16% of Black students and 19% of Latino students.
It's similar in the San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara metro area where 44% of Asian students and 36% of White students are enrolled in AP classes compared to 21% for both Black and Latino students.
"We don't want anyone to be left out," Pope said. "We want everyone who wants to take an AP class to have access."
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The access Bay Area students have to these advanced level courses is higher than the statewide percentage for most demographics. But even with almost universal access, there is a small percentage that can't take advanced classes - around 2,700 students out of more than 260,000 - and some locations offer more courses than other parts of the two metro areas.
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"A school in an urban neighborhood in Oakland may be adding one or two AP classes, but you'll see schools out in Walnut Creek adding five or six," Suneal Kolluri, a professor at San Diego State University who specializes in advanced placement courses, said.
According to Kolluri, even though most Bay Area students may have access to one or two advanced courses, there's still a growing disparity.
"So you'll see an acceleration of the gap," Kolluri said. "Even though all students have access to an AP class, the AP programs may be much more robust in suburban, wealthier districts."
The College Board lists 38 different AP classes that are taught around the country. Out of the schools in the 2018 U.S. Department of Education database, the San Francisco school with the highest number of AP courses listed has 29. In Oakland, the school with the highest number of AP courses listed has 16.
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Kolluri says he's noticing more high schools across the country starting to have conversations about how to make the college application process more equitable.
"Especially with the scandal that came out of USC with parents that are forging documents, these questions about equity and access to AP classes are becoming more prevalent," he said.
It's not just access to the class itself, but also tutoring that can result in a higher score. The Princeton Review offers online or in-person tutoring starting at $167 per hour. For ten hours, it's a $1,800 fee. That's one reason Kolluri said some private schools are getting rid of AP classes - to avoid inequity.
"Prominent private schools are getting rid of it," he said. "I don't think it's the general trend. That said I can see there may be an inflection point. I can see it turning at some point."