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In this case, the issue is improving the quality of education that is delivered to underrepresented minority students to make them competitive candidates for admission to the UC.
"Access to college is a key indicator of the health and equity in our system," Oakes says. "The children who have the least resources outside of school -- the least social capital, economic resources and political power -- also receive the least from their schools. Access to learning opportunities, to high-quality teaching and to college preparation is vital. Seeing the patterns of access tells us who is getting good K-12 education."
IDEA is a locally focused effort. Parents, students, educators and community activists work together on outreach projects to promote college access throughout Los Angeles. ACCORD, on the other hand, is statewide, an initiative launched at the request of the UC chancellors to bring together researchers from UC and other institutions to look at issues of access to the University of California.
"Our goal is to make sure that every child in California, no matter their background, has a reasonable chance to join the competition to come to UCLA or Berkeley, the most competitive universities in the state," Oakes says. "Everybody should have a reasonable chance."
In the recent Futures project at Santa Monica High School, for example, Oakes and her IDEA team placed 25 Latino and African-American students -- none of whom had previously been high-achieving -- into college-bound and Advanced Placement classes. At the same time, the students acted as "critical researchers" to observe how they negotiated their way through this unfamiliar, intimidating terrain.
Parents, too, were involved in the process, learning to become advocates for their children.
"For low-income students and families, the school system is a mystery," Oakes says. "We want poor parents to have the same knowledge and political savvy that upper-middle-class parents already possess."
The students were also provided many of the things middle-class students generally take for granted -- tutoring, access to computers and visits to college campuses. At the end of four years, 80 percent of the students were accepted to a four-year college or university -- including one young man who traded his role as a gang leader for that of vice president of the student body.
Last year, Oakes and her colleagues started a similar project helping 400 students in the city of Inglewood find their way to college, starting in the sixth grade.