What Equal Access to Education Resources Should Be

Education Equality“Education is the great equalizer—it should be used to level the playing field, not to grow inequality,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Oct. 1 when announcing Office for Civil Rights (OCR) guidance for how all students—regardless of race, color, national origin or zip code—have equal access to educational resources such as academic and extracurricular programs, strong teachers, safe school facilities, technology and instructional materials. But what does it look like in your communities? How does reality compare with policy and law?

In effect, the OCR on Oct.1 put out a national memo telling state and local education superintendents, school board members, principals and other education officials how they must not intentionally or unintentionally implement policies or practices for providing educational resources that disproportionately affect students of a particular race, color or national origin.
OCR contends that, based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all students in public or private schools that receive federal education funding should have equal access to:

  • Courses, Academic Programs, and Extracurricular Opportunities such as pre-kindergarten, gifted and talented, college-preparatory programs, Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate, arts, and athletics.
  • Strong teachers and Leaders measured by effectiveness data, turnover, absenteeism, vacancies, licensure, certification, training, professional development, inexperience, out-of-field status, and other indicators.
  • Strong Support Services Personnel measured by certification, training, and years of experience of school staff, including, for example, librarians, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, and psychologists.
  • Comparable Learning Environments / School Facilities measured by overcrowding, cleanliness, maintenance, heating and cooling, ventilation, lighting, and physical accessibility for students with disabilities, as well as the quality and availability of specialized spaces such as laboratories, auditoriums, and athletic facilities.
  • Technology and Instructional Materials, including laptops, tablets, Internet access, library resources, textbooks, calculators, and digital materials.

“Many states and districts have demonstrated leadership in taking steps to tackle these difficult problems,” Duncan said. “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.

OCR offers school districts information about how to conduct resource equity self-assessments and also provides a complaints process for parents, guardians, students and other individuals or groups to file allegations of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in programs that receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education.

So how equitable are educational resources distributed in your communities? What do you see? What should be done to correct any inequities?

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