New York’s education system denies students of color access to courses that prepare them for college, careers, and active citizenship

Course Access Page, Press Release

Coalition of civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations calls on state leaders to take steps to ensure all students have access to rigorous coursework

NEW YORK – A new analysis released today by the New York Equity Coalition found that across New York State the education system continues to deny students of color access to rigorous instruction in a range of courses that will prepare them for success in college, careers, and civic life.

Updating its previously published analysis on course access disparities, the coalition found that in 2019-20, White students and students who were not from low-income backgrounds were more likely to be enrolled in a range of key advanced courses like Physics, Calculus, Computer Science, Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, music, and advanced foreign languages than their American Indian, Black, and Latinx peers as well as students from low-income backgrounds.

These new data—available at—underscore a persistent crisis first identified in the coalition’s 2018 Within Our Reach report with two basic features: Students who are American Indian, Black, and Latinx, and students from low-income backgrounds, are less likely than their peers to attend schools where key gatekeeper and advanced courses are offered. And even when they do attend schools that offer these courses, they are less likely to be given access.

That was true even before the pandemic, which exacerbated many of the inequities that have persisted in our education system. Now, the state’s path to recovery will rely upon our education system’s ability to ensure that all students have access to high-quality academic coursework. As the state focuses its efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion, we must ensure that all students leave high school prepared for college, careers, and active citizenship.

Among the findings from the 2019-2020 school year:

  • Students who are from low-income backgrounds and American Indian, Black, and Latinx students are under-represented in a wide range of important gatekeeper and advanced courses.
  • Students who are from low-income backgrounds and Black and Latinx students are less likely than their White peers to attend schools where important gatekeeper and advanced courses are offered.
  • Even in schools that offer gatekeeper college- and career-prep courses, students who are from low-income backgrounds and Black and Latinx students are under-enrolled in these courses.
  • Many students across the state do not have access to music or foreign language courses.

In order to achieve equitable outcomes—better graduation rates, college matriculation and completion rates, career placement, family-sustaining wages, and greater civic engagement—New Yorkers must insist on equitable access to rigorous instruction, support from strong educators, and enrollment in the full range of courses that lead to college and career preparedness for all students.

“BIPOC students have long suffered a range of inequity in our schools and opportunities beyond education, and this analysis confirms in stark terms what we’ve suspected all along,” said New York State Senator John Liu, chairperson of the Senate Committee on New York City Education. “Students of color continue to be short-changed when they are denied access to Advanced Placement, accelerated learning programs, and other rigorous coursework particularly in STEM fields. We must use this report as the basis and roadmap to fix our education policy to hack away at inequity. Much thanks to Ed Trust–NY and the rest of the New York Equity Coalition for this critical work.”

As school districts across New York receive an unprecedented influx of new funding from the state and federal government, it is crucial that school districts direct these resources to ensuring more students have opportunities for academic acceleration including access to courses that will prepare them for postsecondary success.

We call on state leaders to:

  • Invest in infrastructure that supports more access to Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Dual Enrollment courses in high-need school districts—including high-quality professional learning opportunities for teachers, equity-driven course enrollment policies, and expanding access to school counselors who are culturally responsive and can help students navigate the course selection process.
  • Require school districts to provide every family with clear and concise information, in multiple languages, beginning in the late elementary grades about the courses their child can take in middle and high school to prepare for college, careers, and active citizenship—including the benefits of enrolling in advanced courses and the support available.
  • Enable automatic enrollment in the next available advanced course for students who demonstrate readiness using one of multiple measures. Families would always have the right to decline this automatic enrollment if they do not want their child to participate in the course.
  • Ensure that any school or school district that has disparities in advanced course enrollment is implementing an action plan to decrease disproportionality with parent, educator, and student input.

“As Buffalo and New York State seek to recover from the ongoing pandemic, it is crucial that all students leave high school with the skills they need to be successful in college, careers, and civic life,” said Samuel L. Radford III, past president of the District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo and co-chairperson of We the Parents. “Putting students on this path to a bright future means focusing on accelerating their learning and ensuring they have access to rigorous courses in middle and high school – and the support they need to do well in them. We must do better, and we call on local and state leaders to act immediately to make these courses available to all students.”

“Removing barriers to access for these important courses is critical for all students, particularly students of color,” said Heather C. Briccetti, Esq., president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State Inc. “Access to relevant and rigorous coursework has shown to be vital to the success of our students and our state’s economy. We must ensure that all students have the skills necessary to succeed in this rapidly changing economy, which access to advanced coursework often provides. The data shows there is much more that can be done to improve equitable access and support teachers and students to be successful in these courses preparing students for college and careers.”

“Everyone should read this report and be shocked by its findings. This shock must motivate our state leaders to act to improve the outcomes for all students, particularly low-income students and students of color,” said Mark Eagan, president and CEO of the Capital Region Chamber. “Our Chamber is fully committed to working with our New York Equity Coalition partners to ensure that every student is prepared for college, careers, and active citizenship.  We will continue our efforts until all students have access to advanced coursework and rigorous learning opportunities. State leaders must act to end these inequities within our schools. Our students and our economy depend on it.”

“When the Within Our Reach report was first released in 2018, it underscored a critical example of inequity in our education system; one that disproportionately holds back offerings of and access to academic opportunities that uplift student skills and interest from low-income students and students of color,” said Ramon Peguero, CEO and president of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families. “Now, as the pandemic continues to exacerbate long-standing educational inequities, on top of what families and students have endured through the disruptions of COVID-19, it is New York State’s obligation to act swiftly and with collective intention to ensure that each student is robustly invested in, given equitable access to academic supports and opportunities, and leaves high school prepared for college, career, and active citizenship.”

“Advanced coursework should never serve as a gatekeeper to opportunity for students from low-income backgrounds and students of color,” said Katheryn McNicholas, policy consultant for ERN NY. “For academically qualified students, these courses provide college and career readiness, decrease economic obstacles to higher education, and boost students’ confidence in their ability to tackle college-level coursework. This report provides a clear roadmap for New York’s leaders on the specific steps they can take to ensure equitable access to rigorous coursework for all students, particularly those historically denied a college-ready curriculum.”

“Our path to academic recovery requires acceleration. For far too long, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds have been denied the opportunity to participate in advanced and rigorous coursework that will put them on the path to their desired future after high school,” said Dia Bryant, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “The ongoing challenges of the pandemic that have exacerbated inequities and have led to loss of instructional time. It is critical that our leaders act with the greatest urgency to protect our children’s futures, and offer coursework that they deserve.”

“Every child, regardless of race or income, deserves equal access to a quality education that leads to opportunity, college, career, and civic engagement,” said Sheena Wright, president & CEO of United Way of New York City. “This report shows that is not the reality for too many of our students, even when they are academically achieving at the highest levels. At United Way of New York City, we stand ready to take collective and urgent action to ensure our leaders direct attention and resources to address this.”

“Sadly, the gatekeeper courses that are supposed to prepare students for educational success have been unobtainable for many students of color,” said Sebrone O. Johnson, senior vice president of operations for the Urban League of Rochester. “Every effort must be made to remove the impediments to course access and great instruction.  Until we do so, students of color will continue to encounter gate blockers.”

“A solid educational foundation is often a precursor to positive economic outcomes and meaningful participation in our communities, however, we continue to see a disparity in educational offerings in communities of color and low-income areas,” said Martha Kamber CEO of YWCA Brooklyn. This report reaffirms the need for our commitment to the young women and girls of color that we serve, to create opportunities where they have been overlooked, and to strengthen the call to our state leaders to ensure equitable opportunities in education become a reality.”

For more information on the data, see a note here.