• September 3, 2015

Education Department Promises Push on Civil-Rights Enforcement

The Obama administration promised on Monday expanded enforcement of civil rights in education, saying that gender and racial discrimination still hinders far too many students from grade school through college.

In an initiative tied to the 45th anniversary of the civil-rights marches in Selma, Ala., Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited that city and announced plans to open "compliance review" investigations at more than 30 school districts nationwide and six colleges.

The department will also take a more aggressive approach in seeking out civil-rights enforcement matters and warning institutions about problem areas, Mr. Duncan said. The department's Office for Civil Rights "has not been as vigilant as it should have been" over the past decade in confronting discrimination involving race, gender, and physical disability, he said.

The actual effect of the administration's promised initiative was not fully clear, as its promised number of compliance-review investigations was similar to the numbers in the final years of the Bush administration, and department officials gave limited details of how their approach would differ.

Mr. Duncan said he would not identify the school districts or colleges facing the intensive investigations before they are notified. The assistant secretary for civil rights, Russlynn H. Ali, said only that the investigations on the college level would involve topics that include athletics, sexual violence, and people with disabilities.

Examining Outcomes

But Ms. Ali said the department would begin using "disparate-impact analysis," a technique in which statistics are studied to discover discriminatory outcomes that may not stem from any obvious discriminatory intent.

"We'll be looking at data and other sources," said Justin Hamilton, an Education Department spokesman, "as well as proactively working with school and district officials, parents, advocacy groups, and community organizations."

Mr. Duncan, speaking with reporters from Selma, where civil-rights marchers were beaten by police officers on March 7, 1965, said discrimination today is seen in figures showing white high-school graduates are several times more likely than blacks or Latinos to be ready for college-level algebra, calculus, or biology.

Protecting access to education is "the civil-rights issue of our generation," the secretary said, bringing to Selma one of his most repeated phrases.

The head of the department's civil-rights branch for the last three years of the Bush administration, Stephanie J. Monroe, said she supported the aggressive pursuit of discrimination cases and disputed any suggestion that the office had been inattentive during her watch.

Her division carried out 42 compliance reviews in 2008 and 23 the year before, department officials said. It initiated only nine in 2006, though Ms. Monroe said the office was overcoming a backlog of 90 cases that year and finished 72 of those.

The civil-rights office also received about 4,000 to 6,000 complaints a year about discriminatory practices in education and well exceeded the requirement that it resolve 80 percent of them within 180 days, she said. "Our primary responsibility as a law-enforcement agency is to address cases that come in the door," she said.

The Value of Statistics

The use of disparate-impact analysis, however, can be tricky, said Ms. Monroe, who is now president of the Wrenwood Group, which lobbies on educational issues. Simple statistics such as those showing women now outnumber men on most college campuses might not necessarily reflect discrimination, she said, and could instead be due to matters of personal choice.

"Just looking at numbers" doesn't always reveal problems, Ms. Monroe said.

But numbers, said Alma R. Clayton-Pedersen, vice president for education and institutional renewal at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, may be a good place to start investigations.

Ms. Clayton-Pedersen said she doesn't know for sure where the Obama administration's initiative will lead, but she said she's encouraged by the fact that Ms. Ali came to the department from the Education Trust, an advocacy group that has used research to identify and demonstrate gaps in educational opportunities.

"It's something more than the students going on here," Ms. Clayton-Pedersen said, referring to problems identified by researchers such as possible racial variations in areas like admissions and grading, "and the institutions are not meeting the challenge."

The administration's most important concrete promise, Ms. Clayton-Pedersen said, is its plan to send a series of guidance letters to virtually all school districts and colleges in the country warning them of their responsibilities across a range of civil-rights issues, including student assignments, discipline, and access to teachers and other resources.

And rather than waiting for "cases that come in the door," Ms. Clayton-Pedersen said, the Obama administration has made clear that it plans to use data to go find problems. Just like any other law-enforcement agency, she said, the Education Department's civil-rights division should work to "prevent crime and not just respond to it."


1. rickinchina09 - March 09, 2010 at 08:26 am

I'm delighted to hear of this news. I'm sure the Ed Department will assiduously apply its enforcement procedures on all matters related to racial and gender discrimination in admissions to undergraduate and graduate programs at colleges. As a White male, I can rest easy with such assurances. No doubt about it.

2. senecan - March 09, 2010 at 11:52 am

I'm all for efforts to combat discrimination, but this statement, "discrimination today is seen in figures showing white high-school graduates are several times more likely than blacks or Latinos to be ready for college-level algebra, calculus, or biology," seems untenable. Surely this disparate outcome results from a complex set of causes, one of which may be discrimination.

3. 1whoknows - March 09, 2010 at 06:15 pm

"As a White male, I can rest easy with such assurances. No doubt about it"

"this statement, "discrimination today is seen in figures.....seems untenable. Surely this disparate outcome results from a complex set of causes, one of which may be discrimination."

Are you uneasy, sir? Why? Does history give you a reason to feel that way? I assure you that a mosquito bite is not the same as that of a yellow jacket.

And yes there is and was a "complex set of causes". In the 60's, many older blacks still carried the uneasy fear of accidentally marrying a distant relative unknowingly. So, the old people had a way questioning the young girl or boy that was brought home. My great-grand mother, born 15 yrs after the Emancipation Proclamation, went to her grave bitter about her '40 acres and a Mule'. Only when I became an adult did I understand her pain. My father's people were muscogee creeks and they died bitter and embarrassed. Discrimination maybe just one cause...but as they say: 'boy its a biggum'.

Here is a link to open your eyes a little: http://www.johnhorse.com/

4. shazamm - March 09, 2010 at 10:39 pm

There is so much about this article that is troubling that it is hard to know where to start. Of course, the same could be said about almost everything coming out of the current administration:

#1 - But Ms. Ali said the department would begin using "disparate-impact analysis," a technique in which statistics are studied to discover discriminatory outcomes that may not stem from any obvious discriminatory intent.

That means they can read discrimination into just about anything they want. After all, the numbers don't lie. All they have to do is tweak them to achieve the desired outcome and then use them to make political hits or dole out the financial goodies. How nice. Totalitarianism by any other name.

#2 - Mr. Duncan...said discrimination today is seen in figures showing white high-school graduates are several times more likely than blacks or Latinos to be ready for college-level algebra, calculus, or biology.

No mention of high-achieving Asians, but I guess that doesn't fit the "evil" white man narrative. How does working harder, showing up at school more often, paying attention, having a greater sense of personal responsibility, and valuing education more highly equate to "discrimination"? Every day, as I walk through our student union, I see tables full of black kids yucking it up for hours on end. They have been given every opportunity, every means of support, every source of financial support, and that is how they take advantage of it. Then I walk through the library and what I see are White and Asian kids, studying hard and getting their homework done. Not a black student to be seen. There is your "achievement" gap, Mr. Duncan, and it has NOTHING to do with discrimination.

5. performance_expert - March 10, 2010 at 03:44 am

Some observations about US black and latino culture:
1. I read somewhere that US blacks were banned from public libraries until 1962. Therefore, there is a long term process going on, adjustment to academics etc. And yes, some of the old are bitter and racist in the workplace. God help you if you are white or indian and one of these empowered bitter harassment artists comes after you.

2. What about the US born latino kid male approaching high school age whose mother has him "work like a man" as a brick layer? And takes six weeks off in the middle of the school year to go visit family in Mexico?

3. "Yucking it up for hours on end" can be an important part of social adjustment.

4. There are evil white men. Many work in the US in medical and insurance. They make sure they are paid first all of the time. I recently used my health policy to visit doctor. $42. fee due with my insurance at visit. Then I get a followup bill for $70. The visit is covered by insurance, so these two costs are additional to what the insurance paid. This is for a walk-in to get an antibiotic for a winter ailment/ flu. You know, take temp and blood pressure, tap tap tap on chest and back, check for flem, write script, bye bye. Oh, it was a woman doctor.

5. What is the deal with vertical columns of power of women in education? I recently saw a pack of women admin. run-off and ruin the lives of about five men in an academic dept. I have seen where three bosses in hierarchy are all women and I have seen them harass men workers. I have seen a woman, advanced in age and career, go around and do "hit jobs" on male education workers. She did it to me, a male, and now she is doing it to someone else, a male. The strategy is this: remove you from workable assignment and then put you in a very difficult assignment and then regularly visit and over-evaluate you with harsh and negative review, intent being to get rid of you. I have had a woman colleague write a one page "hit piece" on me and give it to my boss. This caused me a bunch of trouble and headache. I had to refute her four points of contention. She wrote it in red ink. She is / was "crazy women" angry that her husband divorced her, so later she takes some anger out on me. She seems to have processed some of that anger at my expense, though did something similar on another issue and was finally held to account.

6. I have also seen over-activity from a member of one of the acclaimed US women's sorority, when the manager shows up at the workplace and is wearing $2000. in clothing, easily $10k in gold and diamond jewelry, and has a $200. hairdo and is driving a new expensive foreign luxury car and makes 2x your salary and is also financially double-dipping and puts on a big show and uses up time and then six months later everything they said at the management meeting is untrue and has been changed, change mind and tactics seemingly at whim, with great worker intimidation and authority. Yes, I have seen it.

These things take time to work out. I think it is good to "empower" workers, though it can be a terrible idea to "empower" management who are not trained in capable and ethical management.
Paying management double what workers earn creates an incentive, an attractor, for unethical people who "want that money."

Take note, Arnie.


6. rickinchina09 - March 10, 2010 at 05:14 am

senecan:You're correct, of course. It's untenable but logic in terms of cause and effect are beyond this crowd. They are too heavily invested in the victimization mentality, as 1whoknows demonstrates. They don't want to consider other factors which contribute to academic achievement gap but that would require some real soul searching. Instead, they want White males to wallow in collective historical guilt for what their forefathers did or did not do. Never mind that many so-called seekers of social justice today in the Black and Brown community have no qualms about Asian immigrant students and underprivileged White students being ignored in this process of judicial review. Holder's office will create yet another entitlement, or at least engage in selective enforcement of the law. But then few in the capital would accuse him of that publicly, would they, for fear of the backlash?

1whoknows: I'm beyond uneasy but indignant and sometimes incensed. Equal enforcement of the laws against discrimination is made difficult by federal policies which make a mockery of what constitutes discrimination. What I find galling is that so few public officials like Holder are willing to admit to the real motive for their actions, which is redress of historical wrongs. If you're going to righteous at least be honest about why you want the prize. And be fairminded enough to look for dirt in more than just the usual places. I've seen countless examples of job discrimination in Hawaii by local Japanese Americans, for instance, but it rarely makes the light of day. It is not the exclusive, insidious reserve of White males; far from it. But go ahead and convince yourself that two wrongs make a right. Just don't be surprised when some of us don't buy the sanctimonious posturing.

7. 22261984 - March 10, 2010 at 09:14 am

From Roger Clegg, Center for Equal Opportunity: The trouble with the "disparate impact" approach is that it targets and makes illegal practices that have politically incorrect racial and ethnic results, even if there is no discrimination at all. That is, it's not just a statistical tool to help uncover hidden discrimination; it redefines discrimination to include practices that are nondiscriminatory by their terms, in their intent, and in their application -- in sum, that are not discriminatory at all. These invesitations will, predictably, pressure schools to get their numbers right, either by getting rid of perfectly legitimate practices or my adopting quotas. (One particularly disturbing area where this approach will apparently be applied is school discipline, and the result will be to discipline children of some races who do NOT deserve it, or -- more likely -- to forego disciplining children of other races who DO deserve it, with predictably disruptive consequences that will penalize ALL children.) Read my article in The Public Interest, here: http://www.nationalaffairs.com/public_interest/detail/the-bad-law-of-disparate-impact

8. mainiac - March 10, 2010 at 09:56 am

What are the cloaked political purposes/outcomes of this obvious ideological "remedy?"

9. lakemendota - March 10, 2010 at 12:07 pm

A joke. OCR has neither the staff or the resources or the political will to make any difference.

10. wturnertsu - March 10, 2010 at 02:55 pm

Rest assured, white males, when you're discriminated against or perceive that you are, you'll not have any difficulty finding a remedy and recovering damages. An actual case in point and one which will amplify just how much of an advantage your group really does have in our society is reflected ib the following account of a "reverse discrimination" suit filed by a white male against the County School District in Lowndes County, Mississippi:

White male, represented by white male attorney, filed suit against the school district which has a majority white male board and which is also represented by a white male attorney. Of course the parties to a suit can be as varied as the demography of the nation. And, of course, parties have a right to select whoever they choose as their legal representative. In the instant case, the school district has a majority African American student body. White male filed suit alleging that he was discriminated against when the board failed to appoint him as the principal over a school (in Mississippi) which has a 90% African American student body. Instead of the case going to trial and the pblic getting the opportunity have light shed upon all the issues alleged and possible defenses of the district, white male plaintiff, white male's white attorney, majority white board and white attornet representing the board all agreed to settle the case in favor of white male plaintiff.

Not only did they settle the case, the terms, including money awarded was not disclosed and white attorney representing the board and the majority white board agreed to seal the terms of the deal. Imagine, if you would, the amount agreed to is in the 6 figures range. Imagine, if you would, that what transpired in that one county in Mississippi is not an isolated case and that similar cases are occurring throughout the state.

To comply with federal desegregation law, schools had to introduce novel policies that were accepted by the federal government, to end and ratify decades of racial disrimination throughout the south. Reagan, during his terms, gutted legal services, the one entity that remained vigilant in the fight to win parity for African American students. Now, the organization is a mere shell of what it once was and the composition of it's staff and board is changed, too. So far, not one single attorney has stepped forward to demand on behalf of the taxpayers an accounting or report about the details of the above-mentioned case. Ironically, or, perhaps not so ironically, the suit was filed during the last term of George, Jr.

A case very similar to the one referenced above was filed in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi which is adjacent to Lowndes County. The plaintiff in that case also prevailed; collected his money; and, left the state.

White males, instances where the foxes guard the hen-house are far more prevalent for you than they are for any other group in America. While I shared information about two actual cases involving reverse-discrimination in eduation, I have no doubt that similar facts and results can be found in other areas, beside just education. The sad thing is that despite there being so many "successful attorneys of African American descent in Mississippi and elsewhere, none have seen fit to offer their services pro bono to expose what appears to be a conspiracy to convert badly needed educational funds to the benefit of a select few. How difficult would it be to challenge a non-dosclosure clause when the funds used to satisfy the settlement belongs to the public/taxpayers? Isn't the public entitled to know how much and for what actual purpose it's monies are being spent?

So, those white males out there who are so quick to whine that you're some how or the other are being shafted, fellows, you don't have the slightest idea of what it means to be shafted. On the other hand, you probably do. In too many instances, you've been the veryu ones doing the shafting. Or, you have been the primary beneficiaries of all of the shafting that the rest of us have received, especially those of us who are African American males.

11. performance_expert - March 10, 2010 at 05:49 pm

wturnertsu, thank you for the thoughtful write-up however you conclude with a nasty generalization. I suggest the most productive approach is to be post-racial and post-sexist. Simply produce.

On the topic of supporting poor, minority, etc. the most effective remedy would be to implement socialist non-profit support services that the US is sorely lacking, and by that I mean universal single payer health care. The USA has such a basket of predatory mechanisms for everyday life. The initiated can navigate these (sometimes) and for the unitiated, the USA is a journey of ruin.

These concepts and ideas lead to real production and real level-the-playing field. These are real economic initiatives, not political positioning that inevitable benefits a few people and may malign a good parcel along the way and particularly, dysfuntional management will not provide good energetic effective services that are provided in the spirit of post-racial and post sexist work environments. Race? Who cares. Sex identity? So what.

And yes, I support programs to specifically help those who need help, and yes I am well aware of the poverty trap many endure for generations. But I know from public work the type of dysfunction I speak of, and I know from corporate work the type of energetic no-nonsense people who produce; and by that I mean persons of many races.


12. performance_expert - March 10, 2010 at 05:57 pm

PS There are a lot of cases involving K-12 admin. where the case is made to go away. I used to track some articles where something went wrong and admin's contract was bought out, often more around 1/2 million dollars. Yes, taxpayer money but not a lot compared to total budget, but still ethically weird. But the tradition seems to be to "make the case go away" and "let them suffer their karma." I do not think this tradition is a racial thing. I agree it is weird and distasteful and wasteful of money.

Regarding Mississippi school with 90% black students, I would think a principal should represent the students. But then again, maybe a black principal should be appointed to a 90% white school? I am in agreement with you of many of your intuitions however please consider not to scapegoat and generalize. And when you target those who are actually doing real work, you may be missing out on what is really happening. If you want to confront "the power" and be politically effective, I guess one way to do it is to harass intellectuals and make their lives miserable, and set them back a few notches just to exercise some political muscle and blow off some steam. The problem is, these are not who are profitting from the prison system and denying services. These are the ones enduring assault and harassment to provide services, real service, to those who need it, have real need.

13. wturnertsu - March 11, 2010 at 11:48 am

Performance, I beg to differ. I did not generalize. I referred specifically to those white males who whine and mistakenly believe that governmental policies aimed at remedying decades of racical discrimination benefit only the nation's racial minorities. A mis-educated African American male or un-assimilated Hispanic is not only a drag on his own racial group, he's a drag on the entire nation.

I agree, people have been throwing money at cases for years, "just to make them go away." My point is this: As taxpayers, it seems to me that the parents whose kids make up the vast majority of the school population and the taxpayers whose hard-earned money is appropriated each year, should, at least, KNOW HOW MUCH THE WHITE PLAINTIFF, REPRESENTED BY HIS WHITE ATTORNEY VERSUS A MAJORITY WHITE BOARD, ON ADVICE OF IT'S WHITE ATTORNEY, paid to "make the case go away." Ironically, that same school district announced during the same week that it announced the settlement, that it would have to cut programs and terminate staff in a school district that has a very high percentage of African American students.

Productivity is very important. Even in saying that, I know, and so do you, there are many who reap far in excess of what they actually produce. Much of their reaping is due to race and/or gender. Conscious individuals know that for a fact.

If it appears that I was attempting to browbeat intellectuals or educators, where such are already very much engaged, I apologize; if, on the other hand, you're one of those people who take your few pieces of silver and run, you're apart of theproblem and not the solution. I wrote what I did because I suspect there is more going on than meet the eye when people take public money to give to one of their own (maybe for later distribution among themselves) and then immediately agree to seal the terms without disclosing to the public the amount given. I lack the capacity to challenge the practice, however, I know that their must be others who read the Chronicle who can and who might also find it reprehensible that money needed to educate poor kids in Mississippi is being siphoned off and distributed without any real explanation of why and how much.

Yes. A little steam was blown off. I was bothered because the same newspaper, "The Columbus Dispatch Newspaper" that published the limited story about the white principals' case had also published the week before, a series of stories about a 35 year African American veteran of the city's Police Department racial discrimination lawsuit. The paper reported that the veteran police officer received approximately $50,000 and all other details were published in the paper. When it reported the settlement of the white pricipal, it gave no germane details, whatsoever. Guess what? The same white lawyer who represented the Black policeman, also represented the White principal.

Performance, I, as much as anyone, pray for the day when this nation, indeed, this world, enters a post-racial, and relatively non-gender, era. At this point, my only tools to help bring it about is my knowledge, experiences, intellect, commitment and courage. Rest assured, if there are any out there who suspect that I've done so without cost, nothing is farther from the truth. The status quo is formidable and when it strikes, it generally delievers a fatal blow. I have suffered the wrath of the system's administrators. I still bear open scars. And, mind you, I struggled alone and in the midst of the real rebels. PEOPLE, THE SOUTH WASN'T KIDDING WHEN IT PLEDGED TO RISE AGAIN. IT INTENDED TO DO SO AND TO RECAPTURE AND MAINTAIN A SUPERIOR STATUS FOR WHITE MALES AND THEY'RE STILL PREPARED AND USING EVERY MEANS NECESSARY TO ACCOMPLISH THEIR CENTURY-LONG GOAL.

My hat is off to educators. I know their pain, their trials and tribulations as well as anyone. I know the subjects of their efforts. Despite their already yeomen efforts, I believe, I pray that they're able to muster just a bit more energy and effort to push us all of the way. The ones to take us to the next level will be our young. Teachers/educators must prepare them to do so and they must do so, regardless of their (educators) race or gender and regardless of the race or gender of those placed under their care.

I apologize for what you perceived to be my "nasty generalization, Performance and thanks for, at least acknowledging that something I said was relevant enough to you, to generate your response.

I do not own a personal computer and time on the public library computers is limited. Any additional response you make, if any, will not be read by me until much, much later.

14. wturnertsu - March 12, 2010 at 04:10 pm

Performance-expert, if you're still out there, The Columbus, Ms Dispatch Newspaper (Google It) has reported another case settled with a non-disclosure clause. The insurance company representing the district insisted upon the clause. Unlike the above-mentioned cases, the instant case alleged sexual harassment. Plaintiff attorney is one and the same. Of course, if the insurance company isn't going to increase premiums and isn't going to decrease benefits, then, who could question their right to refuse to disclose? On the other hand, if the public is going to be asked to pay more for the insurance, a a result of settlement election of the company, then the public ought to know how much is being shelled out. That is especially the case becauss every additional dime that the county pays for insuring against such suits, or as actual payment from the school budget, itself, is a dime taken away from the poor school children within the district.

I wonder if the Education Department in D.C. has any interest in such matters?

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