Ensuring Equitable Access to Courses & Programs
A growing number of students across the country have access to diverse courses, work-based experiences, and specialty programs of study that empower them to pursue studies aligned with their interests and ambitions after high-school. From traditional and high-tech Career and Technical Education (CTE), Advanced Placement (AP), computer science and arts classes to comprehensive CTE programs of study, International Baccalaureate (IB) and immersive second language programs, there are a wide variety of approaches to providing academics that meet student needs and interests. Which students in which communities have access to any of these though can largely be a factor of local leadership, resources, and community advocacy. Our Course & Program Access work can help state, local, and community leaders explore the appropriate role of the state and local school districts ensuring equitable access to programs and which courses or programs should be available.
Despite the expansion of courses and programs available to some students, not all are available in every school or district. Some may only be available in certain urban schools while others are offered in rural communities and still others limited to wealthier communities with more resources or those who benefit from private sector or philanthropic support. Even when offered in some schools in a district, through a district run magnet school, local charter school or through open enrollment in a neighboring district, access can be limited. Limitations can range from available seats in the program or by a family’s access to transportation when the area of study is not offered in their neighborhood school.
Most states regulate core academic offerings like math, science, history, and language arts — and the majority of states have adopted or revised standards for these courses. Through different approaches, states exercise varying levels of control over graduation and high-school diploma requirements. Which programs or courses are offered outside of these core areas is much less regulated or consistent and often subject to a combination of local efforts or shifts in priorities and focus of state education chiefs.
We can work with state leaders first to conduct a comprehensive inventory of the different courses and programs offered across the state in traditional district schools, charter schools, those available online or through dual-enrollment, and other partnerships with institutions of higher education (IHEs). Included in this can be collection of data on enrollment and completion numbers, course access or entry requirements and the geographic distribution of program availability. With this data as a foundation, state Academic Course Access Equity workgroups can hold conversations about any strengths, deficiencies, or inequities in student access to the programs and the appropriate role of leaders at every level in addressing areas in need of change. These workgroups explore questions like:
- Which if any courses or programs should be available to every student?
- What is the appropriate role of the state? Is it to mandate offerings, to incentivize, provide oversight or only to provide support when requested?
- How can local leaders develop programs or courses that meet their community’s needs?
- What, if any, are the implications for the teaching workforce state-wide and within districts?
- What resources would be necessary at the state or local level to ensure equitable access?
- How should state and local leaders determine what courses or programs of study are offered?
The workgroup’s findings will identify specific steps and recommendations for state and local education leaders, communities and, where appropriate, local school boards and state elected officials.