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Equitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction DomainEquitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction

“Interaction between students and their teachers—through curriculum, coursework, and instruction—is at the heart of education

Research has long shown that differences in exposure to challenging courses and instruction are associated with disparities in educational outcomes.2, 3 Further research has explored the concept of tracking—the process by which students are assigned to different levels of coursework based on their abilities—and how this process has been associated with the disproportionate placement of student groups in courses of differing levels of rigor, even if they have similar ability levels.4 Research has also explored the role of teachers in education, and there is widespread agreement that teachers have an important role in student learning and outcomes, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 although some research has pointed out limitations of these studies.11 This domain, Equitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction, is examined by three indicators,—access to effective teaching, enrollment in and completion of rigorous coursework, and access to high-quality academic supports—using data from the School and Staffing Survey (SASS), the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), the High School Transcript Study (HSTS), the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), the Common Core of Data (CCD), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) database, and EDFacts. These indicators are based on recommendations in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) framework. The NASEM report notes that some of the recommended indicators have limitations. Currently, the Equity in Education Dashboard provides data based on published products. Because data in our published products do not always perfectly align with the recommended indicators in the NASEM report, we have indicated where our data differ from recommendations in the report. More findings will be added to the Equity in Education Dashboard over time. While the NASEM report uses availability of advanced rigorous coursework, this indicator examines enrollment in and completion of advanced coursework. The NASEM report also includes International Baccalaureate (IB) courses and gifted and talented programs, however, data for these courses and programs are not presented in this domain and may be available in future versions of this report. Group differences in this domain are examined across several educational equity dimensions: race/ethnicity, sex,12 socioeconomic status (SES), disability status and type, English learner status, school locale, state, grade level, and language spoken, wherever the data allow.13

Key Findings on Equitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction

The Access to Effective Teaching indicator examines three constructs: teachers’ years of experience, teacher education and certification, and racial and ethnic diversity of the teaching force.

  • An increase in education levels among public school teachers has been observed over time.
    • Higher percentages of public school teachers in 2020–21 than in 2011–12 held a postbaccalaureate degree (master’s, education specialist,14 or doctor’s degree) as their highest degree.  
  • During the same time period, some changes in the racial and ethnic diversity of the teaching force in public schools were observed  
    • Lower percentages of public school teachers in 2020–21 than in 2011–12 were White (80 vs. 82 percent) or Black (6 vs. 7 percent). In contrast, higher percentages of public school teachers in 2020–21 than in 2011–12 were Hispanic (9 vs. 8 percent), Asian (2.4 vs. 1.8 percent), or of Two or more races (2 vs. 1 percent).  
  • Differences have been observed in the certification routes of U.S. public school teachers by their background characteristics and those of the students they served.
    • The percentage of alternative route teachers in public schools in which at least three-quarters of students were racial/ethnic minorities was higher than the national average of 18 percent. 

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The Access to and Enrollment in Rigorous Coursework indicator examines two constructs: enrollment and completion in advanced, rigorous coursework and enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) and dual enrollment programs.

  • During the 2017–18 school year, a higher percentage of females than males in Grades 9–12 in public schools were enrolled in algebra II, advanced mathematics, biology, chemistry, and AP science.
    • Higher percentages of Asian students than of students of any other racial/ethnic group were enrolled in calculus and AP mathematics during the 2017–18 school year (13 percent and 14 percent, respectively).
    • The percentages of students enrolled in calculus and AP mathematics were lowest for Black and American Indian/Alaska Native students (2 percent each for both groups and subjects). 

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The Access to High-Quality Academic Supports indicator examines one construct: access to and participation in formalized systems of academic supports, with a focus on special education services and services for English learners (ELs).

  • Differences have been observed in the number of students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) IDEA as a percent of total enrollment by race/ethnicity and sex.
    • In school year 2021–22, the number of students served under IDEA as a percent of total enrollment was highest for American Indian/Alaska Native and Black students, and was lowest for Pacific Islander15 and Asian students.
    • As a percentage of K–12 students enrolled in public schools in school year 2021-22, more male students (18 percent) than female students (10 percent) received special education and/or related services under IDEA. 
  • Differences have been observed in the percentages of students who are identified as English learners (EL).
    • In fall 2020, the percentage of students who were ELs was higher for school districts in more urbanized locales than for those in less urbanized locales.
    • In fall 2020, more than three-quarters of ELs were Hispanic. 

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1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Monitoring Educational Equity (p. 90-91). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2 Gamoran, A. (1987). The Stratification of High School Learning Opportunities. Sociology of Education, 60(3), 135-155.

3 Gamoran, A., and Mare, R.D. (1989). Secondary School Tracking and Educational Inequality: Compensation, Reinforcement, or Neutrality? American Journal of Sociology, 94(5), 1146-1183.

4 Mickelson, R. A. (2005). How Tracking Undermines Race Equity in Desegregated Schools. In J. Petrovich and A.S. Wells (Eds.), Bringing Equity Back. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

5 Aaronson, D., Barrow, L., and Sander, W. (2007). Teachers and Student Achievement in the Chicago Public High Schools. Journal of Labor Economics, 25(1), 95-135.

6 McCaffrey, D.F., Lockwood, J.R., Koretz, D.M., Louis, T.A., and Hamilton, L.S. (2004). Models for Value-Added Modeling of Teacher Effects. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, 29(1), 67-102.

7 McCaffrey, D.F., Sass, T.R., Lockwood, J.R., and Mihaly, K. (2009). The Intertemporal Variability of Teacher Effect Estimates. Education Finance and Policy, 4(4), 572-606.

8 Nye, B., Konstantopoulos, S., and Hedges, L.V. (2004). How Large are Teacher Effects? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 26(3), 237-257. Available from:

9 Rivkin, S.G., Hanushek, E.A., and Kain, J.F. (2005). Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement. Econometrica, 73(2), 417-458.

10 Rockoff, J.E. (2004). The Impact of Individual Teachers on Student Achievement: Evidence from Panel Data. The American Economic Review, 94(2), 247-252.

11 Rothstein, J.M. (2017). Measuring the Impacts of Teachers: Comment. American Economic Review, 107(6), 1656-1684.

12 This domain presents a compilation of data from various sources crossing several periods of time. Within each indicator, the term “gender” or “sex” is used as presented by the original data source at the time.

13 Not all equity dimensions, such as race/ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, English learner status, and disability status, are examined for all constructs.

14 Education specialist degrees or certificates are generally awarded for 1 year’s work beyond the master’s level, including a certificate of advanced graduate studies.

15 For findings based on CCD data, Pacific Islander includes data for Native Hawaiians and any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.