Racial segregation in education has been illegal in the United States
since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of
Education, 349 U.S. 483 (1954). As a result of that decision, the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Swann v. Board of Education, 402
U.S. 1 (1971), schools became increasingly integrated. Subsequently
enacted statutes provide additional protections. Many enforcement
actions have been brought by the government. The Department of Justice
has brought more than 200 cases involving more than 500 school districts
that practiced de jure discrimination. The U.S. Department of
Education administers a number of significant laws and programs many of
which are replicated at the state and local level. In their totality,
these measures create a legal and policy framework aimed at the
elimination of race-based disparities in educational quality and
opportunity. Today, the American public educational system is open and
accessible to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, or
The Office for
Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Education (Department)
bears the primary federal responsibility for eliminating barriers to
equal educational opportunity. This office enforces a number of laws
prohibiting discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal
enforcement responsibility includes Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 (Title VI), and its implementing regulation at 34 C.F.R. Part 100
and 101, which prohibit race, color, and national origin discrimination.
This statutory and regulatory framework affects virtually the entire
scope of education in the United States, as nearly all education
institutions in the nation -- from elementary through graduate or
professional schools -- receive federal financial assistance. OCR
monitors the activities, practices and policies of:
15,000 public school districts;
more than 3,600
colleges and universities;
5,000 proprietary organizations, such as training schools for truck
drivers and cosmetologists; and
public libraries, museums and vocational rehabilitation agencies.
Currently, OCR is responsible for the civil rights provisions for the
Magnet Schools Assistance Program (Title V, Part A of the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act). OCR conducts a pre-grant review of magnet
school applications to determine whether the school district has an
eligible desegregation plan or voluntary plan to eliminate, prevent, or
reduce minority group isolation. OCR provides civil rights technical
assistance to these school districts.
early years, OCR focused on school districts and colleges that were
operating openly segregated education systems. OCR's work has evolved
from an initial focus on monitoring and enforcing desegregation plans to
the more complex and subtle issues of ensuring students and student
applicants equal access to programs and services.
offices throughout the country conduct OCR's enforcement work. The
headquarters office issues policy in response to emerging issues or when
there is new legislation, referenda, or court decisions. Policy guidance
is shared broadly to help educators meet their civil rights obligations.
OCR executes its civil rights compliance responsibilities through a
number of activities, including complaint investigations, compliance
reviews and technical assistance.
A large share
of OCR's work is devoted to investigating civil rights complaints filed
by students, parents and others. OCR has incorporated non-adversarial
dispute resolution techniques into the case resolution process. For
example, OCR can act as a neutral third party, mediating between the
student or parent and the school or college to enable them to arrive at
an agreement on how to resolve the issues in a complaint. Or, OCR can
negotiate with the recipient, becoming a party to the resolution
agreement resulting from investigating the allegations raised in the
complaint. Often, OCR uses a combination of these techniques to achieve
case resolution. In some instances, OCR reaches the determination that
there is insufficient evidence to support a finding of a civil rights
violation. It is only when all other methods fail that OCR moves to
formal administrative or judicial enforcement.
In addition to
responding to complaints, OCR initiates and conducts reviews to
determine compliance with the nation's civil rights laws. School
districts or local and state education agencies are targeted using
information from contemporary sources. Education and civil rights
groups, community organizations, parents and the media all contribute to
the variety of information used in OCR's identification process. OCR
also relies on statistical data from sources such as the Elementary and
Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report, which it administers.
discrimination includes the prevention of discrimination. OCR provides technical assistance to schools and
colleges, as well as to community, student and parent groups. The aid
that OCR gives to education institutions helps them comply with federal
civil rights requirements, while the assistance given to students and
others informs them of their rights under the law regarding equal access
to educational opportunity.
One example of
the timely assistance given by OCR to school districts and state
education agencies is the work of OCR's San Francisco office.
California's Proposition 227, which passed in June 1998, requires school
districts to redesign their education programs for the state's 1.4
million English language learners. Before the start of the new school
year, districts had to develop new curricula, obtain new teaching
material, revise student and teacher assignments, and educate teachers
and parents about new state requirements. OCR assisted California
districts by working with the state education agency to offer a series
of workshops at school districts and county offices of education
focusing on federal law in the context of the new state law.
In addition to
the work of OCR and other federal agencies, the current Administration
has instituted and expanded an array of programs to widen college
opportunities for students of modest means -- a group disproportionately
composed of racial and ethnic minorities.
the area of education, there continues to be a mixed record of recent
gains and persistent inequalities. It is noteworthy, however, that
inequalities have narrowed. Among the population 25 years and over in
1998, the proportion of Whites with a high school diploma (84 percent)
was higher than for Blacks (76 percent) or for Hispanics (56 percent),
but not significantly different from the figure for Asians and Pacific
Islanders (85 percent). In 1980, there was a larger differential in the
proportions who had completed high school for Whites (69 percent) and
Blacks (51 percent) than in 1998.
In 1998, 25
percent of the White population 25 years and over had completed college
(Bachelor's degree or higher). The corresponding proportions were 15
percent for Blacks, 42 percent for Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 11
percent for Hispanics.
Hispanics are likely to have much lower levels of educational
achievement than Whites or Blacks. For Hispanics generally, the figures
for 1999 indicate that 61.6 percent of the population, 25 to 29, had
completed at least high school. Those from Central and South America
were more likely to have achieved that educational level (62.9 percent)
than Mexican Americans (46.2 percent) or Puerto Ricans (59.8 percent),
with Cubans at about the same level (62.1 percent).
the 1990 decennial census, the proportion of American Indians, Eskimos,
and Aleuts 25 years and over who were high school graduates was 66
percent. Corresponding figures from the 1990 census were 78 percent for
Whites, 63 percent for Blacks, 78 percent for Asians and Pacific
Islanders, and 50 percent for Hispanics.
proportions who had completed college, the 1990 census shows 9 percent
for American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts; 22 percent for Whites; 11
percent for Blacks; 37 percent for Asians and Pacific Islanders; and 9
percent for Hispanics.
The current Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
responds to the needs of students for whom English is a second language.
Section 7102(a)(15) includes among the underlying congressional findings
the following: "[T]he Federal government, as exemplified by Title
VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 204(f) of the Equal
Education Opportunities Act of 1974, has a special and continuing
obligation to ensure that States and local school districts take
appropriate action to provide equal educational opportunities to
children and youth of limited English proficiency." Further, in
Section 7102(b), the Congress declares it to be the policy of the United
States "to assist State and local educational agencies,
institutions of higher education and community-based organizations to
build their capacities to establish, implement and sustain programs of
instruction for children and youth of limited English proficiency."
To implement this policy, Title VII provides for assistance for, among
other things, bilingual education capacity and demonstration grants and
research, evaluation, and dissemination.
Congress established the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority
Languages Affairs to help school districts through funding and providing
technical assistance to meet their responsibility to provide equal
education opportunity to limited-English proficient children. A
subsequent Supreme Court ruling, Plyler v. Doe, established that
states cannot deny an equal public education to undocumented immigrant
children. Amendments to Title VII since its initial passage have
expanded eligibility to students who are limited-English proficient;
emphasized the transitional nature of native language instruction;
reinforced professional development; supplied additional funds for
immigrant education; and provided for research and evaluation at the
state and local level.
2.8 million elementary and secondary students, speaking over 150
languages, are identified as limited-English proficient. Among the
several components that make up the Clinton Administration's Hispanic
Education Action Plan are bilingual, immigrant, and migrant education
programs targeting elementary and secondary students, as well as
sustained mentoring and college assistance programs. In addition, the
Administration has proposed expansion of an adult education
"English as a Second Language Civics" program to assist
immigrants in learning English, navigating public institutions, and
being involved in their communities.