Reid Saaris, 2010 Social Innovation Fellow

Getting Minority Students on the Advanced Track
Photo of Reid Saaris
Founder, Equal Opportunity Schools

Research shows that participation and success in rigorous courses like Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes significantly improve high school students’ educational outcomes and can alter their life trajectories for the better. Yet minorities and low-income students are underenrolled in AP/IB courses at almost all of the high schools that offer them. This means that at least 580,000 such students, despite their potential, “go missing” from these classes each year.

The mission of Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS) is to close race- and income-related enrollment gaps in AP and IB programs in America’s public schools by 2020. The organization offers the schools it works with a five-phase, one-year service plan to help them reach the minority and low-income students who should be in AP/IB classes. EOS first makes the case for change and aligns stakeholders. It then sets targets and launches an action plan, guides an efficient outreach and enrollment process, enhances program quality and academic supports, and plans for ongoing success of the initiative.

EOS has already achieved success in pilot programs in South Carolina and California. In South Carolina, EOS doubled the size of the school’s AP/IB program and tripled the number of African Americans in AP/IB in one year. Similarly, in a California district, EOS nearly doubled districtwide Latino participation in AP/IB. Significantly, in South Carolina, the pilot’s curricular enhancements increased the AP/IB test-pass rate by 20%, and the effect was felt by all students regardless of ethnicity and income level. Such interventions are also shown to increase student engagement and motivation, raise high school and college graduation rates, and improve critical-thinking skills and college readiness. “The enhancements that are made to accommodate students who may not be used to such classes — such as making expectations and requirements more clear — benefit everyone,” explains Reid Saaris, Equal Opportunity Schools’ founder.