Obama Administration: More Civil Rights Enforcement in Schools

Article excerpt

The Obama administration intends to step up enforcement of civil rights laws that apply to schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the announcement in a speech in Selma, Ala., timed to commemorate the 45th anniversary of civil rights marches there.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan signaled Monday the Obama administration's intention to step up enforcement of civil rights laws that apply to schools and colleges, many of which are often ignored.

In remarks delivered in Selma, Ala, timed to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the marches in which civil rights protesters were brutally attacked by police, Secretary Duncan said, "The truth is that, in the last decade, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has not been as vigilant as it should have been in combating gender and racial discrimination and protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. But that is about to change.... We are going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement."

In particular, Duncan discussed the Education Department's plan to issue guidance letters to schools across the United States, as well as its intention to conduct numerous compliance reviews around issues like discipline and equal access to educational opportunities.

He highlighted certain indicators that point to inequities existing today:

- Upon finishing high school, white students are about six times more likely to be college-ready in biology than African-American students. In algebra, they're four-plus times more likely.

- Just 12 percent of high schools produce half the dropouts in America. Three-fourths of African-American and Latino come from those schools.

- African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely to be expelled as their white peers.

Duncan also pointed to a Denver Post investigation that showed that three-quarters of teachers who had been let go and had trouble finding another teaching job over the past four years were placed in high-poverty schools.

That last issue - access to good teachers - is one that Amy Wilkins would like to see the department pay particular attention to. Ms. Wilkins is a vice president of the Education Trust, which works to close the achievement gap. Research shows that good teaching is important to success in school. …