3 solutions for desegregating AP and gifted programs

White parents tend to put more pressure on educators to admit students into AP courses
By: | June 28, 2021
(Fresno USD)(Fresno USD)

Segregation remains a problem for Black and brown students within buildings even as the schools themselves become more integrated, says one researcher.

In a study of Virginia’s K-12 system, Black students who attended more affluent schools remained less likely to enroll in advanced placement classes compared to white and Asian students, says Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, an associate professor and concentration coordinator, educational leadership, policy and justice at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Students eligible for free and reduced lunch were also underrepresented in the highest-level courses, Siegel-Hawley says. “Even if you have a diverse school, these patterns of stratification come inside,” Siegel-Hawley says.


More on underrepresentation: 3 ways to move more Black and brown students into AP


Research shows that Black and brown students are disadvantaged when teacher recommendations are the primary method for moving students into AP and other higher-level courses. Tracking prior performance and course prerequisites can also be barriers, she says.

Also, white parents tend to put more pressure on educators to admit students into AP courses. This advocacy is so pronounced on some schools that administrators give white students preferential treatment even when their parents don’t exert any pressure, she adds.

Here are three potential solutions to the problem:

1. Publicize the data. The Department of Education collects data on integration every two years.

Administrators should not only be accessing these reports but also discussing the data regularly with their teams to spot disparities, Siegel-Hawley says.

2. Stop tracking. Eliminating remedial tracks will prevent students from getting stuck in low-level courses, which are often taught by the least experienced teachers. Re-routed students, however, may also need extra support to help them succeed in higher-level courses, Siegel-Hawley says.

3. Build a coalition. Administrators can build support for integrating advanced courses and programs by being explicit and transparent about their goals and rationales. For instance, administrators can set workforce preparation as a goal for desegregating advanced courses.

Some schools have had success with faculty book studies that give educators time to grapple with questions of racial inequality and how it can be disrupted.

But it’s not only underrepresented students who benefit when educators fully integrate AP courses, gifted programs and similar classes. “It’s good for students to be in classrooms where there’s a robust exchange of perspectives; perspectives that are shaped by racial, ethnic and economic identities,” Siegel-Hawley says.