Equal Opportunities Schools: Finding the Missing Students
During his second year as a high school teacher in South Carolina, Reid Saaris noticed that a highly academically capable student was not registered for advanced classes. The student was African American and Saaris observed that most African-American students at the school were enrolled in lower-level courses. As Saaris walked down the hallway, he could see “on one side a 12th grade English class playing an all-class game of hangman and half of the kids asleep with their teacher saying, ‘Who wants to guess the next letter?’ And on the other side, kids debating and discussing interesting literature and ideas about citizenship.” He and the student went to the school office where Saaris switched the aspiring young man into advanced-level courses.
The following year, Saaris was promoted to running the school’s advanced programs. Inspired, he led an initiative to “find all the missing students” from the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, meeting with every 10th grader at the school. The initiative had a stunning impact. Within one year, the school’s AP and IB programs had doubled in size, with the number of African-American students in advanced classes tripling. At the same time, the success rate for all students on the AP and IB exams increased by 20 percent.
This case recounts the subsequent path that Saaris followed to take his efforts to a national level. He established Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS) with the aim of closing the access gap to advanced courses for minority and low-income students. The case details the organization’s outreach and application process as well as the successes that EOS achieved and the challenges that it faced. It culminates with the announcement of the Lead Higher Initiative for which EOS would dramatically increase the number of schools with which it partnered over the next three years.
Students are asked to propose a growth strategy, consider whether EOS should modify its funding model, and articulate the messages and approaches it should employ to gain the attention of school districts.