In Illinois, less than ½ of public schools offer AP Statistics, only ⅓ offer AP Physics, and a mere ⅕ offer AP Computer Science, according to recently released Federal Department of Education Civil Rights data. The percentages are even worse for schools in poor and/or rural neighborhoods.
These statistics are concerning. Too many students are without access to upper-level math and science courses during their high school matriculation. While we seek to grow student interest in the STEM fields and see more students (particularly historically underrepresented students) attend and progress through higher education, it is important that they not only have the foundation, but also the experience with upper-level courses that may inform their future education and career interests.
Since 2016, Empower Illinois has advocated for expanding coursework for students whose schools cannot find the resources or the talent to teach these courses.
In 2016, with the help of Sen. Kimberly Lightford, Empower Illinois introduced the Course Access Act, which would have allowed students to take up to two classes via a provider approved by the State Board of Education. While the bill did not become law, it did spur the creation of a commission that investigated course availability throughout the state, and issue a report.
In 2017, Empower Illinois introduced the bill again—this time as the Course Equity Act—incorporating many of the recommendations of the commission. Unfortunately, it faced stiff opposition from the teachers’ unions and the school management alliance, and did not make it out of the Senate.
Still, the work that Empower Illinois does lives on. In 2019, another education advocacy organization, STAND for Children Illinois, introduced Course Equity legislation that borrows heavily from the work Empower Illinois began in 2016.