U.S. Education Secretary Announces Guidance to Ensure All Students Have Equal Access to Educational Resources

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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.

The guidance is directed to all federal funding recipients that oversee or operate elementary and secondary education programs, including state and local superintendents, school board members, principals and other education officials. It will help educators, parents, students and advocates understand how OCR addresses resource equity in our nation's schools. Today's guidance builds upon the resource equity guidance issued by the Department in 2001.

The guidance also draws upon many of the findings published in the Congressionally-mandated Equity and Excellence Commission's 2012 report, "For Each and Every Child." In addition, the guidance also responds to these findings by providing details on the requirement that states, school districts and schools distribute resources to students in a fair and equitable manner.

Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that public education "is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." Despite major progress in some areas, many students, especially students of color, continue to lack the opportunity of a quality education. Earlier this year, OCR released the first comprehensive look at civil rights data from every public school in the country in nearly 15 years in an online database at crdc.ed.gov. The data shows that:

  • Black and Latino students account for close to 40 percent of high school students, but constitute just a quarter of students taking AP courses and exams, and only 20 percent of enrollment in calculus classes. And just 68 percent of black students—only two-thirds—attend a high school that actually offers calculus. By comparison, 81 percent of white high school students have the option of taking calculus, as do 87 percent of Asian students. American Indian and Native Alaskan students are much less likely than students in other ethnic groups to attend high schools that even offer AP classes, calculus, or physics. College and career-ready data can be found here.

Other Department data collections reveal:

  • Students of color are more likely to go to schools with lower-quality facilities such as temporary, portable classrooms. A recent NCES study found that 45 percent of schools with more than 50 percent of students of color have temporary, portable buildings compared with only 13 percent of schools with less than 6 percent of students of color and 32 percent of schools with 21 to 49 percent students of color.

  • Students of color are more likely to be assigned to inexperienced, out-of-field, academically weaker, and less effective teachers than are other students.

The Office for Civil Rights' mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about OCR is available here.

To view OCR's Fact Sheet on Resource Equity in English, click here, and to view it in Spanish, click here.