Celebrating 25 Years of Progress: Civil Rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) first became law. Since then, it has stood as an important piece of civil rights legislation, prohibiting discrimination and ensuring that people with disabilities share the same opportunities available to all Americans.

For twenty-five years, the ADA has helped to transform perceptions, promote access, and support success. One of the law’s greatest results has been to affirm the right of self-determination for people with disabilities. It used to be that many life decisions were made for people with disabilities. Today, millions of Americans have the freedom to shape their own lives and determine their own destinies, whether they have physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, learning disabilities, or any other disability.

In the field of education, thanks to the ADA and other civil rights laws, students with disabilities are now entitled to equal opportunities to participate in extracurricular sports. Schools that use online education or electronic devices must provide students with disabilities with equal access to those learning experiences, as well as to educational opportunities outside the classroom. We’re working to ensure positive school climates for all students, including students with disabilities, from addressing bullying and harassment, to ensuring that schools don’t discriminate in how they discipline students. And educational facilities and programs must meet appropriate accessibility standards.

I’ve seen proof of the ADA’s impact on students around the country. I’ve been inspired by the many leaders and advocates who work hard every day to advance the rights of people with disabilities, and by the students with disabilities who are fully participating and excelling in school, including sports and other extracurricular activities.

I’m proud of what we at the Department have been able to achieve – with the help of partners at the national, state, and local levels – to support children and adults with disabilities, from pre-school to college, and beyond. The data show we’re making progress on educational outcomes for students with disabilities in ways that are transformative for students, schools, and society. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for example, the nation’s high school graduation rate is the highest ever – and from 2011 to 2013, the graduation rate of students with disabilities rose by nearly 3 percentage points.

On the civil rights front, between 2009 and 2014, our Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has resolved more than 25,000 ADA-related complaints. These include cases involving school discipline and use of restraint and seclusion; whether students received a free appropriate public education as defined and required by law; equal access to educational opportunities; academic adjustments for postsecondary students; access to appropriate technology, services, and facilities; disability-based bullying and harassment; and retaliation for exercising civil rights.

Since 2009, OCR has issued groundbreaking policy guidance on topics like the use of electronic book readers and other emerging technology in compliance with federal civil rights laws; schools’ obligations to respond to bullying and harassment of students with disabilities; the rights of students with hepatitis B in postsecondary health-related programs; effective communication requirements for students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities in public elementary and secondary schools; and how schools may follow CDC recommendations for protecting against Ebola and the measles without discriminating against students with disabilities.

Our Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has facilitated a major shift in how the Department oversees the effectiveness of states’ early intervention services and special education programs by developing a new results-driven accountability framework under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Our aim is to achieve better outcomes for the country’s 6.5 million children with disabilities.  This approach pivots from a primary emphasis on compliance to a focus on improved results and outcomes for students with disabilities, including performance on assessments, graduation rates, and early childhood outcomes. In addition, OSERS is also working to build stronger bridges between K-12 and postsecondary education and career pathways for young people with disabilities through the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) signed by President Obama one year ago. WIOA encourages greater alignment and coordination across federal, state and local programs to increase people with disabilities’ access to high quality workforce, education and rehabilitation services provided in the most effective and efficient manner.

But while these gains are promising, we must do even better – from addressing the new realities of the digital age by ensuring equal access for people with disabilities in online learning – to raising high school graduation, postsecondary completion, and career readiness for people with disabilities – to curbing inequity and civil rights violations experienced by students with disabilities.

The 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA is more than a celebration. It’s an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the values that the ADA represents and to renew our commitment to helping all Americans succeed – in schools, workplaces, and every part of public life.

We at the Department remain steadfast in our goal – working together with schools, parents and guardians, and stakeholders – to realize the promise of the ADA.

Catherine Lhamon is the assistant secretary for Civil Rights

Fixing ESEA: Looking Out For All Students

The demands of the real world have changed – and with them, the educational needs of our young people.

This week, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will make important decisions that will have real impact on our children’s learning—and whether high expectations and equal opportunity for all groups of students will translate into action, or just a talking point.

As families everywhere recognize, success in today’s world is no longer just about what you know. It’s about what you can do with what you know—it’s about creativity, critical thinking, and teamwork to develop new solutions to new problems. Success for our nation depends on providing every student in this country with the opportunity to learn at high levels—and on an expectation that, when schools or vulnerable groups of students fall behind, leaders will take action.

Low-income children now make up the majority of our nation’s public school students. Leaving them behind is no longer just a moral failing, it’s also an unmitigated disaster for America’s ability to compete in the global economy.

We join with numerous other civil rights, education and business groups in urging Congress to make a critical choice for our children—whether or not to roll back important federal protections for vulnerable students. It’s a deliberate choice for excellence and equity–to insist that all children deserve a world-class education, no matter their background, family’s income, zip code, or skin color.

Both the Senate and the House are debating whether or not to gut the most important tool the federal government has to ensure that all students have a fair shot, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. The law today doesn’t serve states, educators or students well, and it’s time to fix what’s broken.

But as that change happens, Congress faces a choice that has profound moral and economic consequences. Congress must not compromise the nation’s vital interest in protecting our most vulnerable, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and providing educators and schools with the support and resources that they need to do their vitally important work.

For decades, this law has provided funds and set guidelines to help ensure that factors such as poverty, race, disability, and language don’t limit the education that a child receives. And it has aimed to protect students who are most in need of additional supports so that they, their families, and their teachers have the same prospects and access to resources as their more advantaged peers.

There are many praiseworthy aspects of the bill that the Senate will consider this week, but if ESEA is to live up to its legacy as a civil rights law, both the Senate and House bills must do much more to ensure accountability for the lowest-performing five percent of schools, schools where groups of students are not meeting academic goals, and those where too many students are not graduating.

All parents and communities should be guaranteed that if schools are not sufficiently supporting students to graduate from high school ready for college and career, states, districts, and educators will implement interventions that correct course. They should be guaranteed that there will be additional resources and supports in those schools, with especially comprehensive supports in the lowest performing schools.

Without those guarantees, high expectations could become a matter of lip service rather than a reason for action—with dangerous consequences for individuals and our society.

We applaud the leadership of Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP); Senator Patty Murray, the Committee’s senior Democrat; and the other members of the HELP committee for the important steps that they’ve taken to advance a bipartisan proposal to reauthorize ESEA. But we urge them and their colleagues, as they begin to debate the bill this week, to make critically needed improvements.

Every school in every city and town across the country should be a hub for success. This is the essential step we must take for the reality of America to live up to the promise that is America.

In this country, education always has been a bipartisan cause—and it must continue to be. Unfortunately, the version of ESEA reauthorization that the House of Representatives is considering this week is a bill that has been written with virtually no bipartisan input, and would represent a major step backwards for our nation and its children.

At a time when our public schools are more diverse than ever before and our nation’s welfare depends to an unprecedented degree on developing the potential of every student in America, we must demand an education law that provides meaningful accountability and upholds principles of equity and excellence for all students. We urge Congress to pass a law that does just that.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education, Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League, and Wade Henderson is the President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Colorado District Delivers Civil Rights Change

Each day we have the pleasure and honor to meet and work with extraordinary school leaders who are working hard to deliver on the hopes we, as parents, have for our own children and for all students in schools. We want to share the story of one such leader in Colorado, whose work we are excited to see, and whose success in supporting parental involvement and engendering community support for schools we’d like to see replicated in more school communities around the country.

In Colorado’s Adams County School District 14, Superintendent Patrick Sánchez has accomplished transformative change against very tall odds. In April 2014, our Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved a complaint against the district to fix what had become a very hostile environment for Latino students, parents and staff. During our investigation we confirmed, for example, that the district had prohibited students from speaking Spanish at school, even in social settings. Staff reportedly used racially hostile language toward Latino students and denigrated students’ cultural backgrounds.

A Latino staff member also reported to us that a principal justified messy bathrooms because “Mexicans are poor and don’t use toilet paper,” and “there are few restrooms in Mexico.” As a cause of the racially hostile environment, many Latino staff were forced to resign or were removed from their jobs.

This is the environment that Superintendent Sánchez sought to immediately fix when he took the reins in July 2012, after the previous Superintendent’s resignation following the start of our investigation. Since that time, the Adams 14 district has made impressive gains to deliver equal educational opportunity to the district’s 7,000+ students. Superintendent Sánchez publicly apologized to parents, the community and staff for harm that they suffered in the past, and has made great strides in restoring the community’s trust and involvement in the district.

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My Brother’s Keeper: A Year of Progress

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

When President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative one year ago, he did so with a powerful call to action to help more of our young people stay on the right track and achieve their full potential. Too many young people, including boys and young men of color, face daunting opportunity gaps and, like all of us, the President knows that America will be most successful when its young people are successful.

At the launch of MBK, the President called for government, businesses, nonprofits, schools, districts, and individuals, to commit to making a difference in the lives of our nation’s young people. Since then, nearly 200 cities, counties, and tribal nations from 43 states have accepted the MBK Community Challenge, a call to build and execute locally driven plans with a focus on achieving excellence and equity from birth through adolescence and the transition to early adulthood.

Last May, I joined young men in Denver, an MBK Community, for an open and honest discussion about their lives – their challenges, support systems, and visions for the future. So many of their stories – both heart-wrenching and inspiring – stick with me, but what perhaps struck me most were the words of Elias, who was once told he was “an exception to his race.” The words weighed heavily on him, as they did on me.

Elias told me that he doesn’t want to be an exception to his race. Rather, he envisions a system where schools partner with nonprofits and higher education to create a pipeline to success that will work for everybody.

The good news is that Elias’s vision is starting to take shape. Partners from across the country are recognizing the important work of MBK, with more than $300 million independently pledged by foundations and corporations. And, in July, AT&T, the NBA, and the NBA Players Association announced efforts that will expand opportunities for learning, mentorship, volunteerism, and jobs for all youth, including boys and young men of color. From nonprofits and foundations to businesses, private sector efforts are accelerating the work of MBK to promote academic and career success, and mentoring and public engagement.

The Department of Education is doing its part, too, by improving existing programs to better serve our youth, and by creating new and better public-private partnerships that best serve the needs of our young people. And, the Council of the Great City Schools is coordinating the leaders of 63 of the largest urban school systems in the country in an unprecedented joint pledge to change life outcomes by better serving students at every stage of their education.

In December, the Department of Education convened the White House Summit on Early Education, where we announced $750 million in new federal grant awards from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, to support early learning for over 63,000 additional children across the country.

And, I was pleased to join US Attorney General Holder in releasing a Correctional Education Guidance Package, which builds upon the recommendations in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report. The guidance will help states and agencies strengthen the quality of education services provided to the approximately 57,000 young people in confinement every day.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice released joint guidance reminding states, school districts and schools of their obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential. The Departments also released additional tools and resources to help schools in serving English learner students and parents with limited English proficiency, including a toolkit to help school districts identify English learner students.

Great efforts are underway in communities across the country – but our young people still face great challenges. To truly change the face of opportunity in this country – to truly make the bounty of America available to the many, and not just the few – we must replicate and expand what’s working.

Our work is far from over. Let’s move forward, together, to do right by all our nation’s young people.

Read the My Brother Keeper’s Task Force one-year progress report to the President.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

What You Need To Know: New Guidance on Ensuring English Learners Can Participate Meaningfully and Equally in Educational Programs

The U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) today released joint guidance reminding states, school districts and schools of their obligations under federal law to ensure that students who are English learners have equal access to a high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential.

Almost five million students in the U.S. are English learners, making up about nine percent of all public school students. This is the first time that a single piece of guidance has addressed the array of federal laws that govern schools’ obligations to English learners. The guidance recognizes the recent milestone 40th anniversaries of Lau v. Nichols and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), as well as the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Yes. School districts must have procedures in place to identify potential EL students in an accurate and timely manner. School districts must then determine if potential EL students are in fact EL through a valid and reliable test that assesses English language proficiency in speaking, listening, reading and writing.


EL students are entitled to appropriate language services to become proficient in English and to participate equally in the standard instructional program within a reasonable period of time, as well as extracurricular programs and activities. EL students are entitled to EL programs with sufficient resources and districts must have qualified EL teachers, staff, and administrators to effectively implement their EL program. Districts must also monitor the progress of EL students, evaluate the effectiveness of their EL programs, and modify their programs in a timely manner when needed.


Districts must provide effective language assistance to limited English proficient parents, such as offering translated materials or a language interpreter. It is not sufficient for the staff merely to be bilingual. Districts should ensure that interpreters and translators have knowledge in both languages, and are trained in the role of an interpreter and translator—including the ethics of serving as one—and the need to maintain confidentiality.



The Civil Rights Act at 50: Arne Duncan at Howard University

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 laid the groundwork for a much broader mission to fulfill the American promise of equal opportunity – and that is why it is not just part of our history but part of our future.

Students of color have made enormous gains since 1964. And yet the rising significance of education in the global economy has made America’s remaining achievement gaps so much more consequential.

In 1964, fewer than half of young black adults completed four years of high school; in 2012, about 70 percent of black students graduated from high school on time.

Yet despite that and other progress, it’s still not enough to fulfill the promise of the Civil Rights Act. America today still has serious achievement gaps and opportunity gaps.

Since 1991, all regions of the nation have experienced an increase in the percentage of black students who attend highly-segregated schools, where 90 percent of more of students are students of color. Millions of students today lack the opportunity to benefit from attending racially diverse schools. Disproportionate discipline extends to preschool.

America needs the abilities and talents of all its children to succeed and thrive. Our children, and our nation, deserve no less.

A year after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, President Lyndon Johnson spoke at Howard University, saying that freedom alone is not enough to fulfill the rights set forward in the Act.

Johnson told the Howard audience that “you do not wipe away the scars of centuries” of discrimination and bring a person “up to the starting line of the race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.” He continued, “The next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights” is not “just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.”

On Tuesday, July 15, at Howard, Secretary Arne Duncan reflected on why civil rights issues remain urgent today at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Joined by Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary Duncan talked about the progress America has made, and explained why education is the civil rights issue of our time. Watch the speech or read the transcript.


Students Reflect on #civilrightsride Experiences

On Wednesday, July 2, ED commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with a Civil Rights Bus Ride. Some of the original Freedom Riders and current student leaders took a trip from Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Virginia, for a symbolic and celebratory returning ride.

Jessica Faith Carter attends the University of Texas at Austin and is from Houston, Texas

I am a first generation college student, a few semesters away from a Ph.D., my fifth degree. For me, education has been a great equalizer and the reason I have been able to transcend some potentially unfortunate circumstances that may come with being born an African American female, in a low-income community. Instead, I have become an accomplished educator and trailblazer. Without the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I would not have had the opportunity to attend the prestigious institutions of higher education that I have, and I don’t think I would be the leader I am today without the knowledge and experiences that I  gained through education.

On July 2, it was truly life-changing to be in the company of men and women who risked their lives to fight for the rights that I enjoy today. As we rode school buses between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia. I was inspired to be among the next generation of leaders who are continuing to advance the work that those luminaries started decades ago. My favorite part of this experience was the dialogue that took place during our journey. Hank Thomas and John Moody — two of the original Freedom Riders — spoke candidly about their experiences as young activists and provided a great deal of insight for future leaders. I stepped off the bus feeling inspired and empowered to continue to work to ensure that every child in this country has access to a high-quality education.

Cindy Nava attends the University of New Mexico and is from Albuquerque, New Mexico

The commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an experience that will be embedded in my heart for the rest of my life.

It is important to remember every stone that has been lifted, every tear that has been shed, and every life that has been taken, in order to appreciate the sacrifices of so many and to acknowledge how far we have come as a country.

As a low-income, immigrant child, the daughter of a house cleaner and a construction worker from Mexico, I could have only dreamt of ever having the opportunity to participate in such an event.

The words of advice, encouragement, and faith from the Freedom Riders truly touched my heart. The words of Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon brought a sense of reality and motivation to continue  working toward a better future that represents justice for all. The passion with which Hank Thomas spoke about his days on the freedom buses was inspirational. He brought to life every second of his pain, struggle, and success during the last five decades.

It is time to learn from the successes and the mistakes of past movements. I think that we must operate within the system to create real change, through creation of policy and educational access for all. We must accept the responsibility of continuing to build the bridge for the millions coming behind us, and we must continue work that will connect young with old. By doing this for years to come, we may continue the battle for equality and justice.

For another student’s perspective, check out student blogger Manpreet Teji’s post on the SAALT blog.

Progress and Challenges 60 Years After Brown v. Board

Anniversaries that commemorate milestones in our nation’s history give us the opportunity to reflect and also to look ahead. For me, this week provides such a moment, as we mark the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Oliver Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansaswhich struck down Jim Crow segregation in our public schools.

Secretary Duncan stands with students at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site during the 2012 Back-to-School Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan stands with students at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site during the 2012 Back-to-School Bus Tour. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Has our country made progress since the 1950s? Absolutely. Nationally, our high school graduation rate is the highest ever, boosted especially by increases for black and Latino students. In our larger cities, where low-income families and students of color are concentrated, growth in student achievement is outpacing the rest of the country. And at America’s colleges and universities, non-white students now represent 40 percent of enrollment—more than double their proportion in 1980, shortly after the U.S. Department of Education opened with a mission to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students.

As someone born a decade after the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board, I wish I could say that I can only imagine what a segregated school looked like. But in the 50 states and more than 300 schools I have visited as Secretary of Education, far too often I see lingering opportunity gaps, in communities isolated by race and income.

Brown outlawed the notion of “separate but equal” schooling or legal segregation, but it did not stop de facto segregation. Many school districts today are intensely segregated–as much as they have been at any time since after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many school districts that were desegregating in the 1960s and 1970s have since resegregated. And within metropolitan areas, educational opportunity and diversity can vary widely among dozens of urban and suburban school districts within a short drive of each other.

Today, about four in 10 black and Latino students attend intensely segregated schools, and white students are similarly isolated from their peers of color—only 14 percent of white students attend schools that you could consider multicultural.

By another measure — the roughly 10,000 complaints that my department’s Office for Civil Rights receives each year — inexcusable discrimination continues in too many places. Last year we resolved a case in an Alabama county where the predominately black high school did not offer the same level of challenging college prep courses as the district’s mostly white high school, which offered an array of Advanced Placement classes. In other places, harassment of students, teachers and school administrators has involved the use of Ku Klux Klan robes, nooses, and racist epithets.

Those are anecdotal instances of blatant discrimination and inequity in schools, and fortunately they are rare. Still, new civil rights data from all U.S. schools shows that as early as preschool, black students are disproportionately suspended and expelled. Students of color continue to attend schools that are disproportionately staffed by inexperienced teachers, with fewer resources and opportunities. These schools are commonly among the lowest-performing in their state.


In May 1954, the Supreme Court concluded that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ had no place in U.S. public education. In May of the following year, the Justices handed down a plan for how schools were to proceed with desegregation. (Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration)

As the most flagrant examples of race discrimination have declined, new examples of discrimination and inequity have emerged. Cases involving mistreatment of LGBT students and immigrants learning English are all too common. And earlier this year, our civil rights office stepped in to end the practice in a New York school district of systemically reducing the grades of students simply because of their disabilities. So, if your child who needed accommodations due to his difficulty with reading got an A+ on his math test, that accomplishment got knocked down to a demoralizing D. What parent would be OK with that?

As a father, I want my children to attend school in a place that looks like where they will one day work, a school that reflects the diversity of the country in which they were fortunate to be born. Today’s de facto segregation denies students the many benefits that come from diversity, including the opportunity to learn from students of different backgrounds and prepare for the mix of viewpoints, abilities and global cultures they will encounter in their careers.

I reject the notion that we can’t reduce or eliminate the opportunity gaps that we see today. There are big things we can do, and there are big things we are doing now at the federal level.

Nearly every major policy initiative that the Obama Administration has advanced in education aims to improve outcomes for underserved students—from partnering with states to expand preschool programs to raising expectations for all students, ensuring quality teaching in every classroom, expanding the opportunities of technology through broadband, turning around chronically low-performing schools and expanding Pell Grants to pay for college. For the upcoming year, we are proposing a new program called Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity, which would help states and districts close opportunity gaps and support teachers, leaders and students in high-need communities.

In 1954, Brown v. Board may have seemed like the end of a long struggle for educational equality. In fact, it was the beginning. We face a lot of challenges today in our communities, our country and on our planet. To solve the big problems we need everyone to be able to work together. No one’s talent can go to waste.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

For teaching and learning resources about this landmark court case, head here.

Equal Pay Day 2014

Women make up half of the U.S. workforce and yet often, they are paid less than men for doing the same job. Today, April 8, marks an important day for highlighting these unfair disparities:  National Equal Pay Day.

Our nation has made great progress in expanding economic and educational opportunities for women, but business, industry, labor, and government at all levels still have so much work to do to ensure that every American, regardless of their gender, is treated fairly and gets equal pay for equal work.

From the first day he took office, President Obama has been a staunch advocate for fair treatment in the workplace and equal pay. The first piece of legislation the President signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for women to challenge their employers in court if they weren’t paid the same salary as men doing the same job. Shortly afterwards, the President created the National Equal Pay Task Force to crackdown on violations of equal pay laws. He called on various agencies to help support this work, from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Education has joined this effort with our federal partners to ensure that the programs and grants we are responsible for can better support women, and narrow or eliminate gender opportunity gaps in education. At ED, we are improving support for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). We are creating pathways to good jobs and careers through high-quality career and technical education (CTE). We are making higher education more affordable, and expanding pathways to postsecondary education for adult learners, workers looking to retrain for new careers, and young people seeking careers that require technical education.

In adult education, recent data has shown that there are gender disparities in skill levels for literacy, numeracy, and problem solving. The new data and evidence of disparities prompted the Department to hold a series of roundtables and engage various equity organizations who work directly with young girls and women. We explored promising models of how to better align local, state, and federal resources when addressing skill issues. And in coming months, ED will be releasing a National Action Plan to help guide our work with respect to low-skilled adults, especially as it relates to gaps in gender equity.

One of the most important—and often overlooked—tools for narrowing gender pay gaps in the United States is Title IX, signed into law in 1972. Title IX bars educational institutions from discriminating against a person on the basis of their sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Title IX proved to be one of the great unsung success stories in education. It is best known as the law that required equal access to athletics for male and female students in secondary schools and colleges. But ultimately, Title IX dramatically increased employment for women by increasing access not just to athletics but to college itself and subsequent job opportunities.

Just as the benefit of athletics stretched far beyond the playing field for men, Title IX proved that the same benefits held true in the case of women and girls. Women athletes are more likely to graduate from college than female students who don’t play sports. They are less likely to use drugs, get pregnant as teenagers, or become obese.

In fact, one rigorous study by Betsey Stevenson—now a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers—found that up to 40 percent of the overall rise in employment among women in the 25 to 34-year old age group since 1972 was attributable to Title IX. Girls and women who benefitted from Title IX had wages that were eight percent higher than their peers–and also were more likely to work in high-skill, previously male-dominated occupations.

As the President has said, equal pay is not just a women’s issue but a family issue. When the number of women in the workforce expands rapidly, their role as breadwinners expands rapidly too. And when women aren’t paid and treated fairly, their families suffer.

That’s one reason President Obama’s groundbreaking 2013 Preschool for All proposal is so important. It would enable states to provide an additional one million four-year-olds with high-quality preschool.

The benefits of high-quality early learning for young children are clear—and their mothers and families benefit as well. Child care expenses for families with working mothers range from 20 percent to nearly 50 percent of a working mom’s salary. Sadly, that steep price tag leads too many mothers to put off pursuing their own educational and career goals.

Our task is to make sure we are always working to narrow and eliminate unfair opportunity gaps. On June 23, President Obama is convening the first-ever White House Working Families Summit.

In the months beforehand, the Administration will build on the momentum of Equal Pay Day, and engage business leaders, advocates, policymakers, and educators to explore how we can better address issues affecting all working families—especially those pertaining to equity for women.

On equal pay, it’s time not just to talk the talk but to walk the walk. As a nation, we’re on that journey now. But we still have a long way to go to meet the gender-blind American ideal of equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Four New Civil Rights Data Collection Snapshots

Last week, the Department of Education released the latest data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The CRDC is a vital resource that provides the public an opportunity to understand how our nation and individual states, districts, and schools serve all students, including our students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities. The troubling disparities revealed in this comprehensive, searchable database serve as a reminder of the importance of ensuring all students have equal access to educational opportunities.

Holder at Wilson Elementary

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with a student following the announcement of the latest CRDC collection at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in more than a decade, the CRDC contains information on approximately 16,500 school districts, 97,000 schools, and 49 million students. The data shines a spotlight on educational equity in areas such as discipline, access to preschool, teacher equity, and access to college- and career-ready courses.

To coincide with the most recent data release, the Office for Civil Rights has created four new snapshots to help understand the data:

Data Snapshot: Early Childhood Education


  • Public preschool access not yet a reality for much of the nation: About 40 percent of school districts do not offer preschool programs.
  • Black children make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children suspended more than once. Boys receive more than three out of four out-of-school preschool suspensions.

Data Snapshot: School Discipline, Restraint, & Seclusion Highlights


  • Disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color: Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of white students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of black students. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1 percent of the student population but 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions.
  • Disproportionate suspensions of girls of color: While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys; American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls (7 percent) are suspended at higher rates than white boys (6 percent) or girls (2 percent).

Data Snapshot: College and Career Readiness


  • Limited access to high-level math and science courses: Nationwide, only 50 percent of high schools offer calculus, and only 63 percent offer physics.
  • Significant lack of access to other core courses: Nationwide, between 10-25 percent of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in the typical sequence of high school math and science education — such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry.

Data Snapshot: Teacher and Counselor Equity


  • Teacher salary disparities: Nearly one in four districts with two or more high schools reports a teacher salary gap of more than $5,000 between high schools with the highest and the lowest black and Latino student enrollments.
  • Access to school counselors: Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.

Learn more about the 2011-12 CRDC collection at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Five New Facts from the Civil Rights Data Collection

Equity – the push to ensure strong educational opportunity for every student – drives everything we do at the U.S. Department of Education, and particularly in the Office for Civil Rights. From preschool enrollment to college attendance and completion, our office’s work is grounded in the belief that all students, regardless of race, gender, disability, or age, need a high-quality education to be successful.

Yet despite the gains we’ve made as a country, too many students are not receiving the education they deserve, and it is our collective duty to change that. Data is crucial to this work and helps us understand the extent of educational inequity throughout the U.S. and make informed decisions for action.

Since 1968, the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), formerly the Elementary and Secondary School Survey, has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. Our office uses this data to focus our equity efforts and monitor the effectiveness of our programs. Earlier today we released new data from the 2011-12 collection, and for the first time since 2000, we collected data from every public school in the nation. This newest collection also includes data on preschool suspensions and expulsions for the first time as well.

Below are five striking new facts from the 2011-12 CRDC collection:

  • Access to preschool is not a reality for much of the country. About 40 percent of public school districts do not offer preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.
  • Suspension of preschool children. Black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 42 percent of preschool students suspended once, and 48 percent of the preschool students suspended more than once.
  • Access to courses necessary for college is inequitably distributed. Eighty-one percent of Asian-American high school students and 71 percent of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, fewer than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high schools.  Black students (57 percent), Latino students (67 percent), students with disabilities (63 percent), and English learner students (65 percent) also have diminished access to the full range of courses.
  • Access to college counselors is uneven. Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.
  • Disparities in high school retention.  Twelve percent of black students are retained in grade nine – about double the rate that all students are retained (six percent).  Additionally, students with disabilities served by IDEA and English learners make up 12 percent and five percent of high school enrollment, respectively, but 19 percent and 11 percent of students held back or retained a year, respectively.

Learn more about the CRDC at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Catherine E. Lhamon is assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights.

Getting to Know Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon

As her teacher taught a lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle to advance civil rights, Catherine E. Lhamon’s then-four-year-old daughter proudly informed her class, “My mom does that!”

Lhamon has dedicated her life’s work to equity and justice. Appointed by President Obama, she is doing that as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon and Vice President Biden

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon walks with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.

“My own parents were active in civil rights and I attended law school knowing I wanted to make a difference,” said Lhamon, who earned her law degree at Yale after graduating summa cum laude from Amherst College.

Before joining the administration, Lhamon was one of California’s top civil rights lawyers. She worked at the nation’s largest pro bono law firm as Director of Impact Litigation at Public Counsel. She practiced for a decade at the ACLU of Southern California as well as served as a teaching fellow and supervising attorney in the Appellate Litigation Program at Georgetown University Law Center after clerking for The Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

A mother of two young girls, Lhamon moved with her husband and children after her confirmation last summer to continue the work she loves in our nation’s capital. And while Lhamon – who was named one of California’s top 20 lawyers under 40 – brings impressive credentials to her new role, her fresh perspective is vital too.

“After 17 years in the field, I’ve mostly been the one asking government to do more. Now I’ve joined government,” she said.

Lhamon has spent nearly two decades reaching out to and fighting for the civil rights community—resulting in thick skin and extensive knowledge. While she highlights these qualities as assets, above all else, Lhamon credits the tremendous team around her for assisting in a seamless transition and continued accomplishments under her leadership.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which Lhamon heads, is a team of almost 600 people, in 12 regional offices, that she describes as “diverse, well-educated, and passionate.” Lhamon speaks fluently about the office’s ability to handle a wide range of discrimination violations, including novel cases requiring new and creative solutions. Among other cases, she cites a resolution ensuring equitable access to Advanced Placement courses for students of color and a resolution with a virtual charter school ensuring students with disabilities equitable access to their school’s website as evidence of OCR’s success. The Department’s first-ever guidance on the excessive and disproportionate use of out of school discipline was widely hailed as a vital step for the field.

Some 10,000 complaints a year are sent to OCR and Lhamon calls her predecessor’s review of these cases “breathtaking.” In recent years, OCR released guidance to ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunity in extracurricular athletics; clarify full requirements of Title IX in regards to sexual harassment and violence; and encourage the voluntary use of race in the interest of achieving diversity in schools.

Lhamon knows there remains no shortage of civil rights violations occurring across the country today.  She recognizes the difficulties and urgency of the moment and seeks to head an office that “uses our time well and in the process gets a lot more justice for a lot more kids.”

For the remainder of the Obama administration, she will be fighting on behalf of those kids. Lhamon’s younger daughter sees her mom as quite simply: President Obama’s lawyer. She is also every student’s lawyer—a challenging job Lhamon is eager to tackle.

Dan Griffin is a confidential assistant at the U.S. Department of Education