Before I came to Stand, I spent eight years working directly with schools and districts to identify, address and remove the systemic barriers that exclude students of color and low income students from dual credit coursework. In that work, I saw teachers, counselors and administrators reckon with the disturbing data about how many brilliant Black and Brown students were missing from their advanced classrooms. In this discomfort, we grappled together with first, acknowledging this reality, and second, acknowledging that it is up to us to collectively address the systemic racism and class bias that harms and excludes so many students.
The team at Stand for Children Washington has been working for almost a decade with the same goal in mind, but with a statewide policy approach. In 2013, Stand worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to create a grant program that incentivized the implementation of a policy known as Academic Acceleration that was already showing promising results in multiple school districts. The policy addresses logistical and human barriers to dual credit classes that students of color frequently face by automatically opting in a wider net of students to the next most rigorous course available in their school. In 2019, the Stand team again worked across the aisle with lawmakers to pass a law requiring implementation of this policy in every school district across the state. Now, in the fall of 2021, the law is coming into effect, which means it’s time to put policy into practice. As I head into my sixth month as Executive Director of Stand for Children and our team brings together our many talents, we’re ready to step up and support the implementation of this policy so that every Washington student has access to these courses.
Stand shares the goal of equitable dual credit enrollment across all student groups with education organizations across Washington. In 2015, the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) named Dual Credit Completion as one of three indicators of school effectiveness under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Both the State Board of Education and Washington Student Achievement Council also feature dual credit prominently in their strategic plans. Students who take dual credit courses are more likely to graduate high school on time, enroll in a post-secondary program, and persist in that program. If we are going to address the ways in which systemic racism manifests within school walls, we must include an assessment of which students are in the most advanced courses and why.
As the deadline for districts to pass an Academic Acceleration policy approaches, our team is taking the lead to support its effective implementation statewide. In partnership with Equal Opportunity Schools, we’ve spent this summer planning for the next steps of implementation. We're grateful to be working closely with OSPI, WSSDA, AWSP, and district leaders across the state. So far, our plans include:
Tracking the progress of implementation in every district and sharing out how far we’ve come through periodic updates and an annual report
Elevating case studies of successful policy implementation from school districts across the state to support the learning of others
Convening a professional learning community (PLC) for district leaders who are ready to lean into the culture change that can come from an effective Academic Acceleration policy implementation
With September upon us, I am feeling all the same back-to-school excitement and anxiety that so many educators and families are immersed in. Although this work to improve dual credit access began long before the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not gone untouched. As schools have pivoted to providing for basic needs and adapting new systems of remote learning, new policies are sometimes the last things on anyone’s mind. But if we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that we are capable of so much more than we thought we were. That includes reimagining a school environment that supports and encourages every student to challenge themselves in the classroom and beyond. I have faith that this seachange we are in is exactly the right kind of opportunity for us to dive into this kind of cultural and policy shift.
Academic Acceleration is about much more than the number of dual credit students in a school. In my previous work we always made sure that district leaders know - this is an adult issue, not a student problem. We must change ourselves and our ways in order to better serve every brilliant student who walks our halls, especially those who are overlooked and undertapped because of their skin color, zip code, first language, or disability.
If you are in a school district that has not yet implemented Academic Acceleration or you want to know more, please reach out to me and our team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re ready to answer questions and support your school community in making this shift. Together, we can make the changes necessary to make a difference for every student.