US Dept of Ed Stern on Racial Disparity in Michigan College Prep Courses

The U.S. Department of Education has directed the Grand Rapids Public School (GRPS) district in Michigan to focus on the under-representation of black students in college and career preparatory courses.

The federal education officials asked the district to make sure that it is providing access to and equal opportunity for black students to participate in rigorous courses for college and career preparation. About 40% of the district's more than 17,000 students are black, writes Monica Scott of

Sharron Pitts, assistant superintendent of human resources and general counsel, told the school board's finance committee on November 25th that GRPS is currently working on a settlement agreement with DOE's Office of Civil Rights to ensure compliance with the requirements of Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance from the Education Department. She said no compliance findings have been issued.

"They are focused on African American students' access to AP, honor courses and our schools that have admissions criteria – Zoo, Blandford, the Center for Economicology, and City Middle High School," Pitts said. "They are asking for a tremendous amount of data."

The district will hire a consultant to analyze its data and make recommendations for how it provides greater opportunity, according to Pitts. The finance committee reviewed a $64,500 proposal from California-based National Equity Project to assist the district in resolving its compliance review.

The full board is set to vote on the proposal at the December 2nd board meeting, to meet the Education Department's request for a plan by December 3rd.

"They are not requiring that we actually have a quota or that certain amounts of African American students are in the schools," Pitts said. "They are requiring that we really look at the structure and see what the barriers are and really look at the academic programs to see if they have the rigor."

City, an International Baccalaureate school, offers a wide array of AP courses. According to Pitts, the Education Department is also examining if the district has a comparable number of AP courses at other schools, to ensure access to a rigorous curriculum is not too narrow.

"We don't see this as a negative because we were doing it anyway, so now they can help us with it," said Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal, who said it is going to help the district fine tune and get better. "I think that people should be held accountable because we need to prepare all students to go to college or to the workforce."

Neal said the Transformation Plan, or district restructuring plan, is all about doing the right thing for children. Neal said the district has already implemented change, having added AP courses in all their secondary schools, studied dual enrollment, and developed a plan to tackle suspensions and expulsions.

The district's test-in schools at the middle and high school level all ranked in the highest percentile of Michigan schools academically, the 99th percentile, on the most recent state report card. However, the state also designated 10 schools as priority schools because of low achievement and many others below the 50th percentile.

11 29, 2013
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