Dear Commons Community,
The New York Times has a featured article this morning describing the National Education Equity Lab that provides funding and resources for underprivileged high schoolers from around the country to enroll in credit-bearing college courses at elite schools around the country. For example, 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 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, they were graded by the same standards, and earned credit for completing the course. Here is an excerpt from the article.
“When Di’Zhon Chase’s teacher told her that she might be able to enroll in a Harvard University class, she was skeptical — and not just because the Ivy League school was more than 2,000 miles from her hometown, Gallup, N.M.
“Harvard isn’t part of the conversation — you don’t even hear that word in Gallup,” Ms. Chase said. “It isn’t something that adults expect out of us. I don’t think it’s because they don’t believe in us; it’s just so much is stacked against us.”
But in fall 2019, Ms. Chase joined a small group of students across the country in an experiment that sought to redefine what is possible for students who share her underprivileged background. 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 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.
For decades, programs such as QuestBridge have tried to connect promising underprivileged students to elite higher education, with some success, but the Equity Lab effort is less about matchmaking than challenging students academically, giving them confidence and preparing them for the rigors of competitive colleges.
The early results, Ms. Cornfeld said, are clear: “Our nation’s talent is evenly distributed; opportunity is not.”
In a sense, the experiment is calling out the higher-education elite, who have long maintained that the underrepresentation of students from underserved communities at their institutions is a problem of preparation that is beyond their control.
“All of these schools talk this game, ‘We want diversity, but we can’t find these kids,’ and this proves they can build a pipeline,” said Robert Balfanz, a research professor at the Center for the Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education.
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.
Good use of virtual learning to expand higher education opportunities!