Coalition of civil rights groups urge equitable distribution, evaluation of programs to close high school achievement gap

WASHINGTON, DC – Expanded learning opportunities can strengthen and enrich the high school curriculum, help close the academic achievement gap, and keep students engaged in school, yet the students most at risk of poor academic outcomes are the least likely to participate in such opportunities. At a Capitol Hill briefing today, the Campaign for High School Equity (CHSE), a diverse coalition of national civil rights groups addressing education quality and equality, urged Congress and education leaders to implement federal education policies that increase access to expanded learning opportunities for high school students and students of color.

“Research has shown that well-designed expanded learning programs can help to counter factors associated with low academic achievement — things like low expectations set by teachers, students’ alienation from school, and lack of a structured environment after school hours,” said Betsy Brand, executive director of the American Youth Policy Forum. “As we explore strategies to improve our high schools, we must increase access to expanded learning opportunities for students of color, Native students, and low-income students — those who are most at risk of dropping out or leaving high school without the skills they need to succeed.”

According to Afterschool Alliance, 17 percent of elementary school students nationwide are in after-school programs, compared to 12 percent of middle school students and just 7 percent of high school students. High-poverty communities of color are consistently underserved by expanded learning opportunities even as these students are more likely to drop out of high school or graduate unprepared for college and work.

“Lagging graduation rates underscore the urgent need to refocus American schools by incorporating innovative approaches like those that expand learning time,” said Beth Glenn, NAACP’s national education director. “High-quality expanded learning opportunities — including programs sponsored by schools, community-based organizations, and Native American tribes — are vital to closing the achievement and graduation gaps in our nation’s high schools.”

CHSE emphasized specific policy priorities to ensure equitable distribution of high-quality expanded learning opportunities, including:

—  increasing funding to secondary schools to provide older youth with expanded learning opportunities;
—  aligning expanded learning initiatives with core school curricula and including assessment and accountability in their designs;
—  using innovative approaches to engage older students; and
—  ensuring that programs are culturally relevant, target under-resourced and at-risk high school students, provide strategic supports for English language learners, and include options for community use of school facilities beyond the regular school day and year.

Brand and Glenn were joined at the briefing by Representative Donald M. Payne (D-NJ); Richard Tagle, chief executive officer, Higher Achievement; Lupi Quinteros-Grady, deputy director of the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center; David Sinski, executive director of After School Matters; and Michael Wotorson, CHSE’s executive director.

To read CHSE’s issue brief, “Expanded Learning: Making It Work for High School Students,” visit www.highschoolequity.org/expanded-learning.

CHSE is a coalition of leading civil rights organizations representing communities of color that is focused on high school education reform. Members include the National Urban League, National Council of La Raza, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, Alliance for Excellent Education, National Indian Education Association, and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center.

CHSE is a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.