As a first step in this multidimensional approach, districts like Passaic, Freehold RHSD, and West Windsor-Plainsboro have identified high-leverage equity goals that have a clear link to the development of more equitable outcomes, can bring about measurable improvements in relatively short periods of time, and provide a foundation for further systemic improvements over time.
In predominantly White Freehold RHSD, Superintendent Charles Sampson and colleagues examined course-taking patterns and found that students receiving special education supports and Black and Latinx students often moved from higher-level courses in 9th grade to lower-level courses in 10th and 11th grades.
To strengthen instruction, the Freehold RHSD directly acknowledged the concerns teachers had about teaching more heterogeneous courses and substantially increased related professional development opportunities.
In part, he attributed that to Freehold RHSD's unusual configuration: Because it draws students from seven different elementary districts, Sampson said that "no one local issue ever dominates what we're trying to do." Even with board support, however, Sampson was still hesitant to eliminate the lower-level math and science courses.
In stark contrast to the experiences in Passaic and Freehold RHSD, West Windsor's previous efforts to change entrance requirements for advanced classes in high school generated considerable controversy among parents.
Sampson has also addressed the beliefs and expectations of the teachers and administrators in Freehold RHSD. To do so, the district engages building leaders, supervisors, and teachers across the district in collaborative planning and professional development around the changes in coursework.
The work in Passaic, Freehold RHSD, and West Windsor-Plainsboro demonstrates that it is possible, even in highly segregated school districts and states, to make real improvements in access to higher-level learning opportunities:
* In Freehold RHSD, from 2015 to 2017, there were more than 500 cases in which classified (special education) students moved into a more rigorous class.