New School District and State Commitments Could Change Narrative for Underserved Students


WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2016 — Today, 75 school district, state, and federal officials convened to announce new partnerships and commitments, and to discuss and celebrate ground-breaking results. Local and state superintendents were recognized by White House Cabinet Secretary and My Brother’s Keeper Taskforce Chair Broderick Johnson at the dinner celebration, hosted by Equal Opportunity Schools and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

This inaugural recognition convening event builds on commitments that members of a group called “Lead Higher” have made to find 100,000 “missing students” over three years and ensure that those previously-overlooked low-income students and students of color are matched with challenging high school learning opportunities that will prepare them for college and a future of their choosing.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King attended the 2015 “Lead Higher” initiative launch by Equal Opportunity Schools, College Board, International Baccalaureate, and lead donor the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation at Google’s DC offices, and said of today’s event and the newly-announced large group of local and state school system leaders: “We applaud the commitments of Equal Opportunity Schools and their partners.”

“All told, the announcement of new commitments today means that 120 district Superintendents and 2 state Superintendents have committed to eliminate access gaps to their most rigorous college-ready pathways,” said Equal Opportunity Schools Founder & CEO, Reid Saaris. “This is especially significant when you consider how much potential their work has to elevate our sense of what is possible for low-income students and students of color.”

Currently fewer than one percent of the diverse high schools in the U.S. that have sizable AP or IB programs equitably include Latino, Black, and low-income students in those programs. Given the small number of schools who provide equal access to these college-level programs today, the total local and state Lead Higher commitments announced today have the potential to increase the number of equitably-accessed AP/IB programs by fivefold.

Research by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools has found that annually about two-thirds of a million talented “missing” low-income students and students of color are stuck literally just across the hall from Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes they could benefit from if enrolled in those classes by their schools. To date, Equal Opportunity Schools partners have transitioned more than 33,000 “missing students up to success in AP and IB courses. And new commitments by Illinois and Maryland alone offer the promise of advanced high school experiences for an additional 33,000 low-income students and students of color annually who otherwise would not have had access.

In celebrating the commitments – and recognizing those leaders who have already eliminated access gaps in their schools –Broderick Johnson, Assistant to the President, Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, the White House, said, “We applaud the tremendous progress Equal Opportunity Schools and all its partners have made to ignite the potential of thousands more traditionally underrepresented students across the country. The Lead Higher coalition exemplifies the values of My Brother’s Keeper, forming innovative alliances to disrupt inequity and expand opportunity.”

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which provides scholarships and grants to open doors to equal educational opportunity for outstanding low-income students, helped launch the Lead Higher initiative and has contributed a million dollars in grant funding to the effort.

“America’s future prosperity and national security depend on how well we utilize the talents of all our students, regardless of their family incomes,” said Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy. “By enabling more low-income students to take challenging courses in high school and earn college credit, the Lead Higher initiative will prepare them to gain admission to college, including the most selective institutions, and to accomplish great things in their careers.”

The Lead Higher initiative has as its mission: “To enable secondary schools to fully reflect their diversity at the highest academic levels; and to elevate our national conversation about low-income students and students of color beyond achieving proficiency to academic excellence.”

Illinois and Maryland’s official membership in the initiative was announced and celebrated at the event, and Illinois State Secretary of Education, Dr. Beth Purvis, connected Lead Higher with the ESSA rollout: “With the new federal education legislation comes significant state responsibility. We believe it is our responsibility to aim high and lead with our unwavering belief that the most rigorous learning opportunities must be equitably available to students, regardless of race or income. Our students have the ability to do the work, and we need to support our schools to ensure that all students have equal access. We think we can be among the first in the nation to get this done.”

Illinois State Superintendent of Schools Tony Smith, Ph.D, said of today’s announcements, “The Illinois partnership with Lead Higher and Equal Opportunity Schools will enhance student readiness for college and career and close gaps in post- secondary institutions as well. School districts across our state are demonstrating tremendous leadership, and I am excited that Illinois can serve as a national model for building a community of practice focused on equity and access in AP and IB.”


Lead Higher works to enable secondary schools to fully reflect their diversity at the highest academic levels; and to elevate our national conversation about low-income students and students of color beyond achieving proficiency to academic 130 Nickerson, Suite 200, Seattle, WA  98109

Equal Opportunity Schools is a national non-profit organization operating in 22 states providing technical assistance, research, and coaching to school system leaders to help them ensure that students of every background are consistently matched with high school classes that prepare them for college. 

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has provided over $152 million in scholarships to nearly 2,200 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The foundation has also awarded over $90 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.


Media Contacts:

Alexa Llibre Manager, Strategic Initiatives for Equal Opportunity Schools, 313-915-0263

David Egner, Communications Consultant for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation,