“Lead Higher” initiative showcased at first-ever Summit on Next-Generation High Schools

Joint effort focuses on closing high school participation gaps in college-level courses.

In Washington DC, USA on 10 November, the Lead Higher initiative—a partnership among Equal Opportunity Schools, College Board and the IB dedicated to ensuring America’s student diversity is fully reflected in our most academically rigorous courses in US high schools—celebrated a big moment when it was showcased at the first-ever Summit on Next-Generation High Schools. The event, hosted at the White House, highlights new actions by philanthropy, industry, school leaders, and others who are committed to re-thinking high school education in this country.

Recognizing that participation gaps in academically challenging high school courses are a significant contributor to unequal college graduation rates and, as a result, long-term life outcomes, the Lead Higher partners jointly committed to identify and enroll an additional 100,000 low income students and students-of-color per year who are ready to succeed in Advanced Placement (AP) and IB high school classes by 2018.

“The next generation of high school students will be by far the most diverse in American history. To date, less than one percent of high schools fully include their diversity at the highest academic levels. We can and must change this. As America continues to diversify, the success of our democracy and our economy will depend upon it,” says Reid Saaris, Founder and CEO of Equal Opportunity Schools.

Exposure to academically intense high school curriculum has shown to be among the strongest predictors of success in college. The Lead Higher initiative—described as the largest and most-targeted effort of its kind to address equity at the highest levels of our K-12 schools—will ensure more low-income students and students-of-color, like Tevares and RayQuan, are given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Rainer Beach High School student, Tavares Tagaleo’o, 17, says the school’s culture has changed as a result of increased access to IB. “It was really a shock, going from this laid-back place into a real academic school,” he said. “I was hesitant at first, kind of intimidated. But IB is the reason why I come every day. I don’t honestly think I’d still be in school if it wasn’t for IB and how it challenged me.”

“AP opened up my eyes.” said W.T. Woodson High School senior and AP student RayQuan White. “The courses were much more rigorous, but having the support of my high school counselors put me in a mindset of wanting to be there, challenge myself, and make sure that I understood everything. They sat down with me and were there to help me find those courses that would fit just right for me.”

Lead Higher will train school leadership to ensure capable underrepresented students are identified, engaged and supported to take rigorous courses that develop skills necessary for success in college. Each organization in the consortium will work with schools to systematize a variety of methods to help them identify students who are being overlooked for these academic opportunities.

Gary Cohn, Superintendent of Schools for Everett, WA, said his team uses the Lead Higher initiatives to spark action.

“We serve our students and families by intensely focusing on systematically removing barriers to student success. We study carefully our students' equitable access to opportunities; we chart opportunity gaps routinely, and we set goals and display our progress for anyone to see. The new Lead Higher practices show us clear tactical actions; they are real tools we can use to make our goals achievable. Our district is richly diverse. It makes sense that the access students have to academic excellence is equally as rich.”

Since the April 2015 launch of Lead Higher, EOS received an additional $5 million from the Raikes Foundation, Fossil Foundation, Jacobson Family Foundation, and Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, amongothers – equipping Lead Higher to offer more school and district leaders the tools they need to consistently engage low-income and students-of-color to enroll and persist in high-level courses like AP and IB. As of the date of the White House summit, nearly 100 districts have committed to fully closing their AP and IB access gaps while boosting student success. And today, EOS is reaching out to Governors and Chief State School Officers to announce a competition through which states can receive in-depth support to become the first state in the U.S. to fully reflect its student diversity at the highest levels of its K-12 schools.