The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights today announced a settlement with New Hampshire’s Manchester School District, School Administrative Unit #37, aimed at providing greater access to college and career preparatory courses for black and Latino students.
OCR examined whether the school district discriminated against black and Latino students on the basis of race or national origin by establishing policies and procedures that result in excluding these students from these programs and courses. The district’s advanced courses include honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses and dual enrollment programs that offer college credit through local post-secondary institutions. Before OCR completed its review, the district expressed an interest in voluntarily resolving this case, resulting in the agreement announced today.
"It is crucial that opportunities that help students prepare for college and career are open to all students regardless of race or national origin," said U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. "I appreciate Manchester Public Schools’ willingness to take on President Obama’s challenge to increase our nation’s students’ college participation by working to improve this college-preparatory access for all of its students and to increase the readiness of its students to take advantage of these opportunities when they arrive at high school."
The Office of Civil Rights’ investigation revealed that black and Latino students were disproportionately under-enrolled in the district’s AP courses. During the 2010-11 school year, the enrollment of black students was disproportionate to their enrollment in AP courses at two of the three comprehensive high schools, and the enrollment of Latino students in AP courses was disproportionate to their enrollment at all three high schools.
Despite the enrollment of 381 black students and 596 Latino students at the high schools, only 17 seats in AP classes went to black students and only nine seats in AP classes went to Latino students, out of the total of 434 seats in AP courses. At two of the three high schools, there were no Latino students enrolled in the AP courses.
In addition, investigators found that the potential barriers to greater participation in higher-level learning opportunities included the assignment of freshman high school students to academic “levels” based largely on performance testing and the fact that changes out of the assigned levels are infrequently made.
Students taking AP courses risked having an automatic withdrawal failure for the class – a mark that counts as a zero toward the student’s GPA and class rank – if they performed poorly in an AP course and had to move back down to a lower level. Also, there was limited communication and outreach to students and parents (including limited English proficient parents) about the availability and benefits of higher-level learning opportunities.
Under the terms of the agreement, the district has committed to ensure that it is providing equal opportunity and equal access for all students, including black, Latino and English Language Learner (ELL) students, to participate in higher-level learning opportunities at Central, Memorial and West High Schools, as well as at its Manchester School of Technology. The district will take the following specific steps:
- Assess the enrollment of students by race, national origin and ELL status in its higher-level learning opportunities and identify the root cause(s) of disparities in enrollment.
- Identify and implement strategies subject to OCR review and approval to increase student participation in its higher-level learning opportunities, particularly for underrepresented groups such as black, Latino and ELL students.
- Consider increasing the numbers and types of courses, adding more teachers qualified to teacher higher-level courses and revising selection criteria for enrollment in higher level learning opportunities if these are barriers to increased participation.
- Improve communication and outreach about the benefits and availability of these opportunities to students and parents (including by providing information to LEP parents in a language they can understand).
- Specifically assess the impact of assigning students to academic “levels” upon arrival at the high schools on their participation in higher-level learning opportunities, and consider eliminating the system of student assignment to levels or altering the current criteria or method of implementation.
- Specifically consider eliminating the GPA and class rank penalties associated with withdrawing from higher-level courses.
- Increasing student readiness for higher-level learning upon entrance to high school by considering ways strengthen the academic rigor at its elementary and middle schools.
- Provide increased support for students enrolled in higher level learning opportunities through counseling, peer support groups and tutoring.
- Review data collected on an annual basis to assess the success of its efforts to increase participation in higher-level learning opportunities by students of all races and national origins and make changes as necessary
OCR will closely monitor implementation of the agreement to ensure that the commitments made are implemented in a timely and effective manner and result in equal access to and equal opportunity for all students to participate in the district’s higher level learning opportunities.
The OCR’s 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 at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.