Lead Higher

Illinois Chosen To Close Equity Gaps in Top Courses, Maryland Selected & Commits for 2017 Launch

[Seattle, WA – Mar 15, 2016] Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Illinois Superintendent of Education Tony Smith are erasing a dividing line over racial and income inequity in high school AP & IB courses. The State of Illinois will become the first state in the US to partner with the Lead Higher Initiative in a statewide challenge to close equity gaps for lower income students and students of color in its high schools’ most rigorous courses.

“America’s students are more diverse than ever before. Yet, no state equitably serves low-income students and students of color at the highest levels, and Illinois is about to change that,” according to Reid Saaris, Founder & CEO of Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), a Lead Higher partner. The Lead Higher Initiative, created partially in response to the President’s call to action around young men of color, represents a groundbreaking initiative to increase AP and IB access by 100,000 low-income students and students of color over the next three years.

In November, Lead Higher invited states to compete for this first effort of its kind: to fully include students of all race and income levels in their best academic programs. Through a competitive national process, Lead Higher chose Illinois for their commitment to close gaps by 2019, and Maryland, as runner up, will be the second state to commit to closing its gaps by 2020.

“Our mission is that every student complete his or her post-secondary career prepared to be an engaged citizen with a meaningful and rewarding career,” Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said. “Increasing access to rigorous AP and IB programs is important to ensure our Illinois children are prepared from cradle to career.”

Illinois Secretary of Education Dr. Beth Purvis added, “The Lead Higher opportunity aligns with our statewide focus on education through quality, equity, and access and will have an immediate and sustainable impact on these students’ life trajectories. Lead Higher partners have already started this work in more than 85 school districts across 18 states, including some of our Illinois schools, reaching over 20,000 students.”

“Students across Illinois will benefit by the new partnership between their state and Equal Opportunity Schools to expand enrollment in AP and IB courses,” said Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the lead philanthropic partner of the Lead Higher initiative.

“We hope Illinois will serve as a national model for efforts to increase the number of outstanding low-income students and students of color in high schools around the state taking college-level courses, because many students who are fully capable of succeeding in such courses simply never sign up,” Levy said. “These courses are an important gateway to admission to colleges where low-income students and students of color remain seriously underrepresented. Everyone benefits when these bright young people have the chance to fully develop their talents.”

“Initiatives like our partnership with Lead Higher and EOS to bring more underrepresented students into the state’s most challenging courses help us break down systemic inequity while maintaining the coursework’s high quality,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D.

“Our work to expand superior academic opportunities for all students, of all races and income levels, continues to raise performance, improve fairness, and close gaps across Illinois. The Lead Higher Initiative will help us use the best tools and resources to continue this momentum and accomplish our goals,” Smith said.

Saaris pointed to several components setting Illinois and Maryland apart. “We noted Illinois’ state leadership engaging superintendents around the issue of students who are missing from advanced courses yet ready to succeed if given the chance; their vision displayed in passing legislation which mandates students receive college credit for successful college-level work in high school; and a large cohort of school, community, business and philanthropic partners.

“Maryland demonstrated its commitment to equity and opportunity from a broad and diverse group of state and district leaders; a commitment to equity in addition to a longstanding and widespread commitment to success and opportunity in their AP/IB programs; and a strong, existing community of practice among district leaders and the MSDE,” Saaris said.

“Education is my administration’s number one priority,” said Governor Larry Hogan. ”Maryland has great schools and world-class universities, but the gap between the good schools and the underachieving schools is among the worst. Partnering with innovative programs like Lead Higher will help to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed.”

“We are thrilled by so many responses to our first statewide partnership opportunity,” said EOS’ Saaris. “Many states sought consideration and we finalized a cadre of five states for closer evaluation. Through careful review, Illinois and Maryland made the best fit for this first partnership. Maryland will launch their statewide EOS partnership in 2017.

“While Maryland’s success rate on AP exams is the highest in the country, it is not enough,” said Jack Smith, Interim State Schools Superintendent. “Persistent gaps still exist, and all ‘missing students’ must have access to rigorous content and success on college level assessments.”

Seven Illinois school districts already committed to close their AP/IB gaps through their EOS partnerships by Fall 2016, setting a new standard of equity in the state of Illinois: Barrington 220 School District, Fenton High School District 100, Glenbard High School District #87, Lake Park Community High School District, Leyden High School District 212, Sterling Public Schools, and Woodstock School District 200.

The Lead Higher Initiative is a consortium created in April 2015, and includes Equal Opportunity Schools, College Board, International Baccalaureate, and lead philanthropic partner the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. It supports the goals and intentions of My Brother’s Keeper, and launched this statewide challenge at the White House’s “Next Generation High School Summit” in November 2015.



Contact points:

Andy Oden, APR, Sr. Comm. Dir., Equal Opportunity Schools, 321-222-3002 andy@eoschools.org

David Egner, Communications Consultant for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, 202-779-1743 EgnerCommunications@outlook.com

Catherine Kelly, Press Secretary, Office of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, 217−782−7355 Catherine.Kelly@illinois.gov

Laine Evans, Director of Communications, Illinois State Board of Education, (312) 814-8998 levans@isbe.net

William Reinhard, Director of Communications (acting), Maryland Dept. of Education, 410-767-0486 william.reinhard@maryland.gov

Education leaders commit more than $100M to enroll 100,000 new low-income students and students of color in advanced academic classes

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A consortium of education, philanthropy and business leaders announced today commitments to spend a combined $100 million over three years to identify and enroll 100,000 low- income students and students of color in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) high school classes across the country.

“We know how to reach the students who are missing these opportunities, and we know they are eager for academic challenges,” said Reid Saaris, founder & CEO of Equal Opportunity Schools, the non-profit leading the effort. “Our national conversation is moving away from a focus on student deficits toward school leaders who see great strength and possibility in previously underserved students.”

Partners in the effort include:

  • Equal Opportunity Schools
  • The College Board
  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
  • Tableau Software, Inc.
  • The International Baccalaureate Organization
  • Google.org

The full text of the commitment, called “Lead Higher,” follows this release.

“We are committing to fully reflect America’s diversity at the highest academic levels in our K-12 schools,” representatives from the partnership group said jointly during a meeting Tuesday at Google’s Washington, D.C. office. The project is described as the largest and most-targeted effort ever to ensure low-income students and students of color are woven into the fabric of high academic achievement.

Members of President Obama’s federal My Brothers Keeper Task Force were also in attendance, including senior White House officials and the U.S. Department of Education’s John King, Senior Advisor delegated duties of Deputy Secretary.

The effort is one of several recent independent commitments that support the goals of the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative to unlock the full potential of young people, including boys and young men of color. The MBK Task Force, comprised of 18 federal agencies, has published a report with recommendations for growing student achievement, including expanding access to and successful completion of rigorous courses.

Baseline data, additional measurements of success and details on how to participate for new districts and those already working with EOS are expected by summer’s end.

Over the past two years, with $1.8 million in seed funding from Google.org, Equal Opportunity Schools has worked with 63 districts across the country to close fully participation gaps in AP and IB courses. It has helped more than 10,000 students across 11 states seize the opportunity of advanced classes. Additionally, Equal Opportunity Schools has studied the issue of advanced course access and success with data from every U.S. high school, and gathered best practices where strong leadership and access to deep data has resulted in equitable access and greatly enhanced academic success.

“There is one clear, undeniable benefit awarded to every single student who enrolls in AP: opportunity,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP & Instruction at the College Board. “When coupled with a student’s hard work, that opportunity can have myriad outcomes, whether it is learning to craft an effective argument, discovering a lifelong passion, building confidence, earning credit for college, or persisting to graduate college on time. We’re proud to play a role in expanding access to challenging work.”

“This ambitious initiative will show on a national scale that high-ability, low-income students can and will succeed in advanced academics when given equitable access,” said Harold Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “Plain and simple, we want to close the Excellence Gap, and we need advanced learning opportunities for bright, low-income students if we are going to do so.”

Text of the Lead Higher Commitment

We, the participants in the “Lead Higher” collaborative, hereby commit –

  1. To dedicate substantial effort to ensuring that America’s diversity is fully reflected at the highest academic levels in our K-12 schools.
    1. Given America’s commitment to equal educational opportunities as a foundation for social justice and economic vitality;
    2. Given the need to elevate the national conversation about what’s academically possible for low-income students and students of color far beyond the recent decade+ focus on proficiency, and given that the achievement gap at advanced levels has expanded significantly in the past decade; and
    3. Given today’s opportunity to announce the largest commitment ever to equity at the highest academic levels, and the first major collaboration by providers of advanced coursework.
  2. To serve an additional 100,000 low-income students and students of color in AP & IB courses over the next three years.
    1. Given that about 650,000 more low-income students and students of color per year should be represented in the AP/IB course-taking population, but are not.
  3. To increase by five-fold the number of schools that fully reflect their school population’s diversity in AP & IB courses over the next three years.
    1. Given that the race and income AP/IB access gaps are driven at the school level and would be nearly closed nationally if within-school gaps were closed;
    2. Given that currently, fewer than 1% of diverse schools nationwide have significant AP/IB programs in which the AP/IB students reflect the diversity of the overall school population; and
    3. Given multiple examples that schools can close these gaps in a single year while boosting AP/IB exam passage.
  4. To collaborate with one another to find innovative ways to achieve equity in advanced high school courses, connecting:
    1. The deep data and school coaching experience of Equal Opportunity Schools;
    2. The proven experience of College Board, a membership organization, in helping to prepare and propel all students toward college success;
    3. The proven school wide transformational practices of an international education as required by the International Baccalaureate; and
    4. The essential support and perspective of our many foundation, non-profit, and business partners
  5. To report results using a set of shared metrics that promote collaboration, common understanding, and cross-organizational progress, with an intention of announcing these metrics and baselines by September 2015.

Pledged this 28th day of April, 2015, in Washington, D.C.