U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hailed the enduring impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying that "our nation's schools are freer from discrimination today and provide far more opportunity for all students than a half-century ago." The landmark law, Secretary Duncan said, set the nation "on a path towards justice and educational equality--yet many civil rights challenges persist."
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act--which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin by institutions receiving federal financial assistance--has dramatically boosted access to quality academic programs among minority students, students with disabilities, and students who are English Language Learners.
Duncan noted, however, that "too many students of color still do not get access to rigorous college and career ready courses, and too many students of color still attend low-performing schools. Every student should be given the tools they need to pursue careers as scientists, mathematicians, and engineers if they so choose."
Duncan has repeatedly called education "the civil rights issue of our generation", and since taking office in January 2009, the Obama administration has implemented a series of reforms to dramatically improve education for students of color. From the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to the Teacher Incentive Fund and School Improvement Grant programs, the Department has directed unprecedented resources to the schools that most need support to ensure equal educational opportunity.
Earlier this year, at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., Duncan announced a reinvigoration of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Education. OCR is launching compliance reviews and issuing policy guidance on the responsibilities of school districts and institutions of higher education, as well as the rights of students and parents, under Title VI. Combined with increased outreach and expanded technical assistance, these initiatives will help fulfill the unfinished promise and legal requirements of Title VI.
This spring, OCR made important changes to the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey. New CRDC data items will strengthen OCR's ability to protect equal educational opportunity and provide a valuable resource for school administrators, educators, researchers, and parents.
The new data items cover critical topics such as students' participation in algebra and other college-preparatory subjects, retention, teacher experience/absenteeism, school counselors, school funding, harassment, restraint/seclusion, SAT/ACT participation, desegregations plans, access to pre-kindergarten programs, and additional information related to discipline. Most of the student data will be disaggregated by race, sex, disability, and English Language Learner status. For 2009-10, the CRDC expanded from 6,000 to 7,000 school districts, and will now include all districts with more than 3,000 students. The two-part survey, conducted in the spring and fall, covers the 2009-10 school year.
"Education is the surest path out of poverty in America," Duncan said. "That is why we need to make sure that civil rights laws are vigorously enforced and that all students receive a fair shot at a good future."