Ensuring Equal Access to Educational Resources for All Students

All of our students deserve equal access to educational resources like academic and extracurricular programs, strong teaching, facilities, technology, and instructional materials, no matter their race, color, or national origin.

That’s why my office, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, released new guidance this week to educators to ensure that all students have equal access to the school resources that they not only deserve, but are their right under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Our most recent Civil Rights Data Collection shows that only two out of three Latino high school students and three out of five of black high school students attend schools that offer the full range of math and science courses, defined by OCR as Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics. Since the start of this Administration, OCR has received more than 260 complaints related to resource equity. OCR has also initiated 33 investigations of states, school districts and schools. Here are two recent examples from our investigations to ensure that students of color could access the educational resources that are their right:

  • In a New Hampshire school district, black and Latino students were disproportionately under-enrolled in the district’s Advanced Placement courses. In an agreement with OCR, the district committed to consider increasing the numbers and types of courses offered and adding more teachers qualified to teach higher-level courses, among other remedies.
  • Earlier this year, in a California school district, OCR found that during the 2010-11 school year, black students in grades 3-6 were more than 4.5 times less likely than their white peers to be identified for the Gifted and Talented (GATE) program. To rectify this, the district agreed to revise GATE criteria and enrollment practices to eliminate barriers to equal access.

We released this guidance to give schools, school districts, and states detailed information on how OCR investigates resource disparities and to set a clear framework for educators on how to comply with the fundamental principle that all students, no matter their race, color, or national origin, deserve equal access to a high-quality education.

In remarks announcing the new guidance, Secretary Arne Duncan described numerous inequities in access to strong teaching, rigorous coursework, and quality facilities. “These facts, and this reality, compels us to act,” he said. “We cannot simply wring our hands and admire the problem.”

This guidance is just one part of President Obama’s larger commitment to equity, including the recently announced Excellent Educators for All initiative. It also builds on recommendations from the Equity and Excellence Commission’s 2012 “For Each and Every Child” report.

We released this guidance to end the tired practice of offering students of color less than we offer other students and to make sure that all of our students have access to the education they deserve.

Across the Department, my colleagues are also working to provide opportunities for students of color. The Department has recently announced grants to support underrepresented students in gifted and talented programs, to develop and evaluate new approaches that can expand college access, to help at-risk high school students prepare for college, and to boost college and career readiness for historically underserved students.

To view OCR’s fact sheet on resource equity in English, click here, and to view it in Spanish, click here. To view the press release, click here.

Catherine E. Lhamon is Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.