Schools to Get Closer Review of Civil Rights; Department Will Intensify Its Reviews to Make Sure All Students' Needs Are Being Met

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Byline: CHRISTINE ARMARIO

The federal Department of Education plans to intensify its civil rights enforcement efforts in schools around the country, including a much deeper look at issues ranging from programs for immigrant students learning English to equal access to a college preparatory courses.

The broad reviews will look not just at whether procedures are in place, but at the impact district practices have on students of one race or another, and if student needs are being met.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to Alabama Monday to outline the department's goals and to commemorate the 45th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" - the day in 1965 when several hundred civil rights protesters were beaten by state troopers on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge during a voting rights march.

"Despite how far we've come as a country over the last 45 years, we know there are still ongoing barriers to equal educational opportunity in this country," Duncan told reporters before his speech.

The department is expecting to conduct 38 compliance reviews around 40 different issues this year, said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department.

Although the investigations have been conducted before, the department's Office of Civil Rights is looking to do more complicated probing.

In his prepared remarks, Duncan highlighted several jarring inequities: At the end of high school, white students are about six times more likely to be college-ready in biology than black students, and more than four times as likely to be prepared for college algebra.

Other highlighted statistics:

- A quarter of all students drop out before their graduation, and half of those come from 12 percent of the nation's high schools. Those roughly 2,000 schools produce a majority of the dropouts among black and Latino students.

- Black students without disabilities are more than three times as likely to be expelled as white students, and those with disabilities more than twice as likely to be expelled or suspended - numbers that Duncan says testify to racial gaps that are "hard to explain away by reference to the usual suspects."

- Students from low-income families who graduate from high school scoring in the top testing quartile are no more likely to attend college than the lowest-scoring students from wealthy families.

"This is the civil rights issue of our generation," Duncan said, adding that the Office of Civil Rights has not been as vigilant as it should have been in the past decade.

In addition to the reviews, the department will also be sending guidance letters to all districts and post-secondary institutions receiving federal funding. …