It’s been 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the achievement gap between minorities and whites remains a salient issue

By: Daniela Tagtachian, Associate Editor Vol. 20

Students have the right to not be discriminated against based on race, color or national origin.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing Title IV. The guidance states: “School districts that receive federal funds must not intentionally discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and must not implement facially neutral policies that have the unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race, color or national origin.”

The most recent Civil Rights Data Collection shows a troubling statistic.

In a recent blog post from the Department of Education, Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education, stated “All of our students deserve equal access to educational resources like academic and extracurricular programs, strong teaching, facilities, technology, and instructional materials, no matter their race, color, or national origin.” She also stated that “[the] most recent Civil Rights Data Collection shows that only two out of three Latino high school students and three out of five […] black high school students attend schools that offer the full range of math and science courses, defined by OCR as Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics.”

Two shocking examples from OCR’s investigations:

  • “In a New Hampshire school district, black and Latino students were disproportionately under-enrolled in the district’s Advanced Placement courses. In an agreement with OCR, the district committed to consider increasing the numbers and types of courses offered and adding more teachers qualified to teach higher-level courses, among other remedies.”
  • “Earlier this year, in a California school district, OCR found that during the 2010-11 school year, black students in grades 3-6 were more than 4.5 times less likely than their white peers to be identified for the Gifted and Talented (GATE) program. To rectify this, the district agreed to revise GATE criteria and enrollment practices to eliminate barriers to equal access.”

ORC has taken positive steps to ensure equal access to educational resources.

The Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education made changes to the guidelines in order to further equal access to educational resources and made recommendations regarding additional measures to be taken in order to close the achievement gap between minorities and Caucasians.

In addition to changing the guidelines, the Department of Education has announced various grants “to support underrepresented students in gifted and talented programs, to develop and evaluate new approaches that can expand college access, to help at-risk high school students prepare for college, and to boost college and career readiness for historically underserved students.”

Will these steps be enough?

Research suggests that once students get behind, they do never catch up. An example is a study conducted in 2007 by Duncan and colleagues, which “concluded that early measures of math and reading, and measures of attention were significant predictors of alter math and reading skills, but early social skills were not. Curiously, early math scores predicted later readying scores as well as early reading scores did.” There are so many factors that go into determining a child’s achievement level in school that start way before the child even begins kindergarten. What programs or resources will be put in place, if any, to help the students close the minority achievement gap before it begins? The ramifications of poverty start before birth and continue throughout the child’s development and unfortunately usually extend into adulthood. It seems like the achievement gap is sadly another part of the cycle of poverty. Will the steps taken by the Department of Education’s OCR be enough to break the ramifications of the cycle of poverty?

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