Recently in the New York Times, Erica Green reviewed an education program that has underprivileged students thriving in Ivy League classes, and the students’ success has raised questions about how elite university gatekeepers determine college prospects. Excerpts from the piece appear below:
Through an initiative started by a New York-based nonprofit, the National Education Equity Lab, hundreds of students are virtually rattling the gates of some of the nation’s most elite colleges by excelling in their credit-bearing courses before they leave high school.
The Equity Lab enrolled more than 300 11th and 12th graders from high-poverty high schools in 11 cities across the country in a Harvard course, “Poetry in America: The City From Whitman to Hip-Hop,” taught by a renowned professor, Elisa New. The high schoolers met the same rigorous standards of the course created for Harvard’s admitted students — they listened to lectures, took quizzes and completed essays, and they were graded by the same standards. The model also includes a web of academic support, including college advisers, mentors, and high school teachers who help teach the material.
The goal of the pilot program was “reimagining and expanding the roles and responsibilities of universities,” and encouraging them to pursue star students from underprivileged backgrounds “with the same enthusiasm and success with which they identify top athletes,” said Leslie Cornfeld, the Equity Lab’s founder and chief executive.
The early results, Ms. Cornfeld said, are clear: “Our nation’s talent is evenly distributed; opportunity is not.”
Of the students who completed the course in fall 2019 — 92 percent of whom were students of color, 84 percent of whom qualified for free lunch — 89 percent passed, earning four credits from Harvard Extension School that are widely accepted by other colleges. To date, 86 percent of such students have passed courses and earned credits offered by an ever-expanding consortium in the experiment, which now includes Yale, Cornell, Howard and Arizona State as well as the University of Connecticut.
This semester, the Equity Lab has grown to serve about 1,500 students from 75 of the nation’s poorest schools in 35 cities. Several school districts and universities are vying to join the consortium, which has a goal of expanding to serve 10,000 students by 2022.
The Equity Lab program differs from college-credit-bearing study programs available to many high school students because the effort is not limited by geography or handpicked access. An analysis of the most recent federal civil rights data by the Community College Research Center, part of Columbia University’s Teachers College, shows white students enroll in traditional dual-enrollment courses at twice the rate of Black students. And Black and Native American students had the lowest participation rates in Advanced Placement courses, the most widely used proxy for college readiness.