$100 Million Initiative Launched to Break Down Barriers to AP Classes

$100 Million Initiative Launched to Break Down Barriers to AP Classes

In partnership with Equal Opportunity Schools, the College Board, Tableau Software, and the International Baccalaureate Organization, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has announced a $100 million initiative to ensure access to and greater enrollment in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses by low-income students and students of color.

With the support of the White House's My Brother's Keeper initiative, the Lead Higher initiative will work to identify and enroll a hundred thousand low-income students and students of color in AP and IB courses over the next three years. JKCF has pledged $1.5 million toward the effort as part of its Excellence Gap initiative, which is designed to reduce the gap between the number of lower- and higher-income students who reach advanced levels of academic performance.

According to the College Board, which runs the AP program, in 2013 African Americans accounted for about 15 percent of graduating seniors but only 9 percent of AP test takers, while low-income students made up 48 percent of high school students but only 28 percent of AP test takers. "There are about 650,000 missing students per year — low-income students and students of color — who would participate in advanced courses in their high schools if given the opportunity to participate at the same rate as other students," EOS president Reid Saaris told Marketplace. Barriers to participation include perceptions among educators that certain students are not "right" for advanced classes and a lack of information among parents and students.

To address those barriers, EOS partners with high schools to identify students missing from the most rigorous classes, enrolls those students in AP and IB courses, and supports those students in completing challenging work. Saaris told Education Week that students will be identified using "deep data," student grades, and surveys of students, parents, and staff in addition to test scores. Details about how the project will proceed and which districts it will work with to improve equity and access to advanced courses will be released in late summer.

"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," said JKCF executive director Harold Levy. "As the largest and most targeted effort ever to ensure low-income students and students of color are part of advanced academic classes, the decision to make this investment was obvious."