DOE’s ‘Dear Colleague’ Letter Focuses on Equal Access to Education

The Department of Education recently released a “Dear Colleague” letter outlining what equal education for all should look like.

The letter looked into a fair distribution of quality teachers, school resources, extracurricular activities, and even school buildings.

According to the DOE, schools with a larger number of black and Latino students tend to have less experienced teachers and are less likely to offer Advanced Placement courses, as well as gifted and talented programs, than schools with a higher population of white students.

“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,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “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.”

Data collected by the DOE show that despite making up 40% of the public school population, black and Latino students only account for 25% of students taking Advanced Placement courses.  While 2/3 of black students attend a school that offers calculus, 81% of white students and 87% of Asian students attend such as school.

Courses of this nature offer more college preparation, putting students who do not participate in them, or cannot take them, at a distinct disadvantage.

Guidelines to create an equal educational environment within all public school systems are to be announced next week by the Obama administration.

Last week, the administration sent a letter to America’s school districts warning them of their legal obligation to ensure that all students have access to an equal education and that they may not discriminate in any way against students of color.

The document highlights Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that while identical resources are not necessary, all students must have equal access to comparable programs and materials.

The administration will be asking school officials to begin collecting data on course offerings, special programs, teacher credentials, as well as student access to librarians, psychologists and guidance counselors.

School facilities will also be monitored by the Office for Civil Rights to ensure equal access to lighting and air conditioning, as well as technology access, including tablets, computers, or Internet connections.

The administration is urging districts to “take prompt and effective steps to eliminate any unjustified inequities” when any are discovered.

“Education is the great equalizer,” Duncan said in a statement Wednesday prepared for the Public Policy Conference of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington. “It should be used to level the playing field, not to grow inequality.”