Illinois Partners with Lead Higher Initiative to Close Equity Gaps

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Illinois Chosen To Close Equity Gaps in Top Courses, Maryland Selected & Commits for 2017 Launch

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Illinois Superintendent of Education Tony Smith are erasing a dividing line over racial and income inequity in high school AP & IB courses. The State of Illinois will become the first state in the US to partner with the Lead Higher Initiative in a statewide challenge to close equity gaps for lower income students and students of color in its high schools’ most rigorous courses.

“America’s students are more diverse than ever before. Yet, no state equitably serves low-income students and students of color at the highest levels, and Illinois is about to change that,” according to Reid Saaris, Founder & CEO of Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), a Lead Higher partner. The Lead Higher Initiative, created partially in response to the President’s call to action around young men of color, represents a groundbreaking initiative to increase AP and IB access by 100,000 low-income students and students of color over the next three years.

In November, Lead Higher invited states to compete for this first effort of its kind: to fully include students of all race and income levels in their best academic programs. Through a competitive national process, Lead Higher chose Illinois for their commitment to close gaps by 2019, and Maryland, as runner up, will be the second state to commit to closing its gaps by 2020.

“Our mission is that every student complete his or her post-secondary career prepared to be an engaged citizen with a meaningful and rewarding career,” Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said. “Increasing access to rigorous AP and IB programs is important to ensure our Illinois children are prepared from cradle to career.”

Illinois Secretary of Education Dr. Beth Purvis added, “The Lead Higher opportunity aligns with our statewide focus on education through quality, equity, and access and will have an immediate and sustainable impact on these students’ life trajectories. Lead Higher partners have already started this work in more than 85 school districts across 18 states, including some of our Illinois schools, reaching over 20,000 students.”

“Students across Illinois will benefit by the new partnership between their state and Equal Opportunity Schools to expand enrollment in AP and IB courses,” said Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the lead philanthropic partner of Equal Opportunity Schools.

“We hope Illinois will serve as a national model for efforts to increase the number of outstanding low-income students and students of color in high schools around the state taking college-level courses, because many students who are fully capable of succeeding in such courses simply never sign up,” Levy said. “These courses are an important gateway to admission to colleges where low-income students and students of color remain seriously underrepresented. Everyone benefits when these bright young people have the chance to fully develop their talents.”

“Initiatives like our partnership with Lead Higher and EOS to bring more underrepresented students into the state’s most challenging courses help us break down systemic inequity while maintaining the coursework’s high quality,” said State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D.

“Our work to expand superior academic opportunities for all students, of all races and income levels, continues to raise performance, improve fairness, and close gaps across Illinois. The Lead Higher Initiative will help us use the best tools and resources to continue this momentum and accomplish our goals,” Smith said.

Saaris pointed to several components setting Illinois and Maryland apart. “We noted Illinois’ state leadership engaging superintendents around the issue of students who are missing from advanced courses yet ready to succeed if given the chance; their vision displayed in passing legislation which mandates students receive college credit for successful college-level work in high school; and a large cohort of school, community, business and philanthropic partners.

“Maryland demonstrated its commitment to equity and opportunity from a broad and diverse group of state and district leaders; a commitment to equity in addition to a longstanding and widespread commitment to success and opportunity in their AP/IB programs; and a strong, existing community of practice among district leaders and the MSDE,” Saaris said.

“Education is my administration’s number one priority,” said Governor Larry Hogan. “Maryland has great schools and world-class universities, but the gap between the good schools and the underachieving schools is among the worst. Partnering with innovative programs like Lead Higher will help to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed.”

“We are thrilled by so many responses to our first statewide partnership opportunity,” said EOS’ Saaris. “Many states sought consideration and we finalized a cadre of five states for closer evaluation. Through careful review, Illinois and Maryland made the best fit for this first partnership. Maryland will launch their statewide EOS partnership in 2017.

“While Maryland’s success rate on AP exams is the highest in the country, it is not enough,” said Jack Smith, Interim State Schools Superintendent. “Persistent gaps still exist, and all ‘missing students’ must have access to rigorous content and success on college level assessments.”

Seven Illinois school districts already committed to close their AP/IB gaps through their EOS partnerships by Fall 2016, setting a new standard of equity in the state of Illinois: Barrington 220 School District, Fenton High School District 100, Glenbard High School District #87, Lake Park Community High School District, Leyden High School District 212, Sterling Public Schools, and Woodstock School District 200.

The Lead Higher Initiative is a consortium created in April 2015, and includes Equal Opportunity Schools, College Board, International Baccalaureate, and lead philanthropic partner the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. It supports the goals and intentions of My Brother’s Keeper, and launched this statewide challenge at the White House’s “Next Generation High School Summit” in November 2015.



Contact points:

Andy Oden, APR, Sr. Comm. Dir., Equal Opportunity Schools, 321-222-3002

David Egner, Communications Consultant for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, 202-779-1743

Catherine Kelly, Press Secretary, Office of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, 217-782-7355

Laine Evans,Director of Communications, Illinois State Board of Education, 312-814-8998

William Reinhard,Director of Communications (acting), Maryland Dept. of Education, 410-767-0486