Education Policy and Advocacy

Expanding Equity in Course Options and Access

America Succeeds recently released our latest report, Advancing Equity in Education, where we expand on the five pillars of our Equity in Education platform, detailing where systems change is both needed and can be impactful. Our report curates some of the best ideas in the field, amplifies leading voices of color in the conversation, builds consensus, and presents actionable solutions to address these challenges. This blog is all about the fourth pillar of our Equity in Education platform: expanding equity in course access and options.

Ensuring all students have access to rigorous courses and empowering families to have the ability to make educational decisions based on the needs of their children are crucial pieces to addressing inequities in education. Too many students, particularly students of color, are tracked away from challenging coursework that will prepare them for postsecondary education. Likewise, most families are constrained to their neighborhood school, even if that school is underperforming or a poor fit for their child. 

Rigorous educational opportunities – like AP and IB courses, dual enrollment, and gifted and talented programs – allow students to engage in demanding classes and develop competencies beyond what is taught in the average high school class. Studies show that students who take advanced and college-level courses are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and graduate with a degree. However, there are barriers to accessing advanced courses for large segments of students of color. Research shows only nine percent of Black students and 21 percent of Latinos are enrolled in a single AP course. 

At the same time, families may find it equally challenging to access better schools or schools that offer an alternative (and perhaps better-fit) program. Open enrollment is the most prevalent mechanism for enabling choice. Each state has varying laws regarding open enrollment; a total of 33 states and the District of Columbia allow students to attend any school within their assigned district and 44 states and the District of Columbia allow students to attend schools outside of their district. However, open enrollment typically allows students to enroll only when there are open seats at a desired school, and families usually must provide their own transportation to get to the other school or district, making it impracticable for many. 

Over the last three decades, public charter schools have expanded into 44 states and enrollment has grown to 3.3 million students. Parent demand at the local level suggests that families like having charter options available to them. Further, charters serve diverse student populations, with students of color making up 68.7 percent of all charter school enrollees and low-income students comprising 59.3 percent. Yet, charters make up only 6.5 percent of the total number of public schools; the vast majority of families are unlikely to have access to a public charter school. 

Having well-prepared students ready to succeed in college is an important component for the success of our economy. But, for this to occur, students need to be academically challenged in their courses in a high-quality learning environment that is supportive of their growth. When these opportunities aren’t available to low-income students and students of color, the result is a diluted, less diverse talent pool from which companies can draw and a corresponding drag on the growth potential of our economy.

We can fix this. To find out more and join the coalition to expand equity in education, visit us at

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