Politics & Government

Education Department takes aim at inequity in public education

It’s been 60 years since the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education declared that public education is a right that must be made available to all “on equal terms,” and since the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color or national origin. But inequity persists, and on Wednesday, the Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague” letter to outline what a fair distribution of the best teachers, school resources, extracurricular opportunities and school buildings should look like.

The department’s data collection shows that schools with large populations of black and Latino students are less likely to offer advanced courses and gifted and talented programs than schools with mostly white students. They’re also less likely to have experienced teachers.

School buildings and the availability of computers, mobile devices and fast Internet service vary as well. “Too often, school districts with higher enrollments of students of color invest thousands of dollars less per student in their facilities than those districts with predominantly white enrollments,” says the letter to school districts from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon.

“All students regardless of their race, zip code or family income should have equal access to educational resources, whether it’s effective teaching, challenging coursework, facilities with modern technology or a safe school environment,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Many states and districts have demonstrated leadership in taking steps to tackle these difficult problems. Unfortunately, in too many communities, especially those that are persistently underserved, serious gaps remain. This guidance aims to fix that by providing school leaders with information to identify and target inequities in the distribution of school resources.”

The “Dear Colleague” guidelines and a fact sheet describe what Office for Civil Rights investigators look for when they determine whether a district discriminates based on race. OCR earlier this year released civil rights data from every public school district in the country.