GAO finds inequitable access to courses that support college-readiness

Exploring “whether the students who wish to pursue higher education have access to courses that support their admission to college,” a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report highlights the sparse offerings at smaller, high-poverty high schools. The report—requested by Representative Bobby Scott, the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce—used 2015-16 data, site visits, and interview, to assess college preparatory course offerings in U.S. high schools, Education Dive reports.

The GAO found that students at high-poverty schools were less likely to have access to courses that support college-readiness, like Advanced Placement (AP) courses, than their peers at more-affluent, larger schools. Attributing the disparity to a lack of funding and resources, the report says that more than 80 percent of low-poverty schools offered at least one AP course, compared with about 60 percent of high-poverty schools. School size also appeared to play a role in course offerings across all poverty levels. Among high-poverty schools, for instance, more than 90 percent of large schools (those serving more than 1,000 students) offered physics, compared with about one-third of small schools (those serving 200 or fewer students).

While acknowledging that college isn’t the end goal for every high school student, the GAO concludes that poverty clearly plays a role in access to advanced courses, adding that “some high-poverty schools may not offer the math and science courses needed to meet basic admission expectations for public 4-year colleges.”

The GAO also highlights ways that some high-poverty schools are working to “ease roadblocks to college.” Some, the report says, are implementing dual-enrollment programs that enable high school students to earn college credit for free while making progress toward their high school diploma. Others are partnering with outside organizations to offer college advising, building a “college-going culture,” and taking an “all-hands on deck” approach to help students succeed.

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