It is that time of year again. Schools are starting the registration process for next year’s classes. As my school is, I am reminded of my favorite Mark Twain quote: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” My school recently partnered with Equal Opportunity Schools to conduct a climate survey of our student body that focused on accessibility of AP and college level classes to minority students, a partnership predicated on illuminating the ways the opportunity gap existed within our own school. I thought that by simply having our AP and college courses self-elect, opportunity to enroll in them was equal. As it turns out, “that just ain’t so.”
Three startling limiters to equal opportunity the survey illuminated:
- Many minority students were not even aware that AP and college level courses were offered.
- Of the minority students who were aware of advanced courses, many did not feel welcome to enroll.
- Parental encouragement to enroll in advanced courses was lacking for minority students.
While these revelations were startling to me, our partners from Equal Opportunity Schools noted that such results were common in many schools. Since closing the opportunity gap is imperative for closing the achievement gap, here are some strategies, among others, we developed and implemented over a single school year to address these limiters to equal opportunity enrollment in accelerated courses at our school:
1. Extend welcome through personal invitations
We had students currently enrolled in advanced courses personally invite peers they thought would excel in the class, but were not enrolled. Since the students were targeting peers they knew who were not currently in the course, many of the students who received invitations were ones impacted by one or more of the limiters the survey indicated. We paired this with our electives fair, an annual event where teachers of elective classes set up student-run booths promoting their classes during. The invitation was a pamphlet that included incentivizing details about accelerated courses, prompted attendance at the electives fair, and had a QR code to access more information about the courses.
2. Revamp the book room
One factor for minority students not feeling welcome that the survey indicated was not seeing their culture or ethnicity represented in the curriculum. Students in advance courses certainly talk about what they are reading in classes, and if the course reading list lacks diversity, the implied message is that the class is only intended for a certain demographic. And student chatter through social media about what they are reading only amplifies this message.
In response we supplemented the current titles in our book room with authors who represented minority groups. Some ethnic diversity was reflected in the authors of our book room, but the titles were limited to pieces dealing with the civil rights era. While inclusion of these pieces is important for students to learn about our society’s struggle, only including such pieces can actually stigmatize certain minority groups. A focus for us was to also include contemporary authors to represent minority voices in a modern context. Getting funding for new books is often difficult, but revamping a book room does not have to be expensive. There are a number of anthologies of shorter multicultural pieces that allow excerpts to be copied if used for educational purposes.
3. Go to the parents
Realizing that lack of parent encouragement was preventing minority students from enrolling in advance courses meant that opening up lines of communication to their parents was crucial for our goal of closing the accessibility gap. Each year during parent conferences, we hold a session at a low-income housing community in our boundary, knowing that getting to the school to attend conferences is a challenge for many of our parents. Seeing this as an opportunity to prompt parent encouragement, we started including an informational booth at the off campus open house night to educate parents on the availability and benefits of advance English courses.
Implementation of these and other strategies resulted in substantial gains toward our goal of accelerated course demographics reflecting natural ethnic and socio-economic proportions. As your school gets ready for the registration season, how could these strategies be used within your school to close the opportunity gap in accelerated courses? Wondering about accessibility for non-accelerated courses as well? Read my blog next month as I focus on how school discipline contributes to the accessibility gap and what teachers can do about it in their own classrooms.
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.
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