Monday, October 06, 2014

New Federal Guidelines Aim to Rid Schools of Racial Inequality

New Federal Guidelines Aim to Rid Schools of Racial Inequality

With racial minorities still less likely than white students to have access to rigorous academic classes or experienced and qualified teachers, the Obama administration will announce guidelines on Wednesday to ensure that strong teachers, high-level math and science courses, quality extracurricular programs, and equivalent technology and school facilities are available for all public school students.
In a 37-page document issued by the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education, the administration urges state officials, superintendents and principals to monitor policies and facilities and to make sure they are equitably distributed among students of all races.

“Education is the great equalizer,” Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, said in a statement prepared for the Public Policy Conference of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington on Wednesday morning. “It should be used to level the playing field, not to grow inequality.”

Data collected by the Education Department show that while black and Latino students represent close to 40 percent of all public high school students in the United States, they make up just a quarter of students taking Advanced Placement classes. Two-thirds of black students attend a high school that offers calculus classes, compared with 81 percent of white students and 87 percent of Asian-American students.

Given that such courses can better prepare students for college admission, and in some cases offer college credit, students who do not have access to them are often at a disadvantage.

According to Education Department data, other gaps point to persistent inequality for minorities in public schools. Black students are more than four times as likely as white students to attend schools where one-fifth of their teachers do not meet all the requirements for state teaching certifications. (Hispanic students are twice as likely to be in that situation.) And schools with high concentrations of minorities are much more likely to have temporary classrooms in portable buildings than those where a large majority of the students are white.

The Obama administration’s document highlights the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that while students need not have identical resources, they must have equal access to comparable programs, materials and facilities.

The administration advises school officials to collect data on course offerings; gifted and preschool programs; athletics; teacher credentials; and access to librarians, psychologists and guidance counselors. Officials are also reminded that the Office for Civil Rights can monitor school facilities to make sure that minority students have the same quality of lighting and air-conditioning as white students or the same access to technology such as computers, tablets or Internet connections.
When disparities by race are identified, the administration’s guidance urges districts to “take prompt and effective steps to eliminate any unjustified inequities.”

The administration’s guidelines on academic programs and facilities come after recommendations made by the Education Department this year advising public school officials to use law enforcement as a last resort in school discipline and to reduce suspensions and expulsions, which tend to affect minorities disproportionately.

Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that taken together, the Obama administration’s guidance provided a refreshing change.
“I think they have taken a muscular approach to actually enforce the nation’s civil rights laws on behalf of students,” Mr. Henderson said. Continuing to collect data, he added, “allows us to challenge these practices in schools in a way that buttresses our chances of success.”

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