We need to stop gatekeeping advanced classes

College & Career Readiness, Current Events & News, High School Success, Legislation, Teachers & Principals | 03/21/2019

Libuse Binder
Executive Director, Stand for Children Washington

"I am an Advanced Placement teacher, but I never took any AP, International Baccalaureate or honors classes when I was in high school. There were many reasons why: gatekeeping by adults, low expectations for students of color, and my lack of comfort as an adolescent in nearly all white spaces."

This is how Nate Bowling started out his guest column in last weekend's Seattle Times. Nate is a teacher in Tacoma and was named the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year. He's been talking about equity in advanced coursework for years (here's another essay he wrote about it in 2017).

Nate's passion for helping kids is evident in his writing, so I'd like to share more of his recent column:

"Unfortunately, the data show that not much has changed since I was in high school 20 years ago. The underrepresentation of students of color and low-income students in advanced courses is a long-term driver and consequence of societal inequality.

We are not doomed to repeat the mistakes and failures of the past. In Tacoma — where I teach — our standard is to try to make our advanced classes demographically representative of our schools. It’s an official policy called Academic Acceleration. We never turn a kid away — even jocks who may be surprised to learn they qualify for advanced courses find themselves in my classroom. This policy works, sometimes even after the students (or their parents) express hesitation at the start of the school year about taking on advanced coursework.

I’d like to share a few examples. I am truly proud that when I stand in front of room No. 306, I see desks filled with students that look like those in the rest of building. Our AP classes look the same as our school buses, cafeteria and crowds at sporting events.

I often say that “my students may not be ‘AP students’ when I get them, but they are when I’m finished with them.” I’ve had dozens of students who tried their best to get out of taking the class in September, love the class and pass the exams in the spring.

I have a student who came to Lincoln late last school year. He’s now a senior taking and thriving in his first-ever AP class. His old school had limited AP offerings and kept other students out with complicated gatekeeping processes. After I handed him back his first exam of second semester, he pumped his fist. He had earned an “exceeds” — the highest score in our grade book. At most schools he would never be allowed near an AP class, but he’s stepped up to the challenge."

Read the rest of Nate's essay here.

There is truth in Nate's words, and that truth is what drives us to keep advocating for policies like Academic Acceleration to be implemented in schools across the state. Equity is the lens that education advocacy requires in order to truly make change for students. 

I'm proud to be standing with teachers like Nate.

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