Equity Guidance Issued by Office of Civil Rights, US Dept. of Education

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The US Department of Education issued Guidance on Equity in US School Systems on October 1, 2014:

All students—regardless of race, color, national origin or zip code—deserve a high-quality education that includes resources such as academic and extracurricular programs, strong teaching, technology and instructional materials, and safe school facilities. Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced guidance, in the form of a Dear Colleague letter to states, school districts and schools to ensure that students have equal access to such educational resources so that they all have an equal opportunity to succeed in school, careers and in life. The guidance, issued by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), provides detailed and concrete information to educators on the standards set in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is one part of President Obama’s larger equity agenda, including the recently announced Excellent Educators for All initiative, and takes into account the ongoing efforts of states, school districts and schools to improve equity.

“Education is the great equalizer—it should be used to level the playing field, not to grow inequality,” said Secretary Duncan, who announced the guidance at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. “That means that 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. 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.”

“We are pleased to partner with educators nationwide to ensure equity in education for all students,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education. “We are impressed with the many school district, educators and state leaders’ efforts to deliver high-quality education on an equal basis, and we are committed to taking strong action where necessary to correct persistent opportunity gaps that violate the laws we enforce.”

The guidance is intended to provide superintendents and other school district officials with information regarding the requirements on educational resources, how OCR investigates resource disparities and what states, school districts and schools can do to meet their obligations to all students. Under Title VI, states, school districts and schools must not intentionally treat students differently based on race, color or national origin in providing educational resources. In addition, they must not implement policies or practices for providing educational resources that disproportionately affect students of a particular race, color or national origin, absent a substantial justification. The law does not require that all students receive the exact same resources to have an equal chance to learn and achieve. It does, however, require that all students have equal access to comparable resources in light of their educational needs.