History Podcasts

The Equal Educational Opportunities Act takes effect

The Equal Educational Opportunities Act takes effect

The Equal Educational Opportunities Act takes effect on August 21, 1974. The new law addressed civil rights issues in education, barring states from discriminating against students based on gender, race, color, or nationality and requiring public schools to provide for students who do not speak English.

In many ways, the EEOA was an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned racial discrimination in schools as well as businesses and outlawed the segregation of schools. The Civil Rights Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history, but it did not singlehandedly put a stop to discrimination in public education. Aside from the famous "Massive Resistance" campaign against desegregation in the South, schools continued to fail racial minorities and students for whom English was not their first language.

The EEOA mandated that schools accommodate students regardless of nationality and that they provide adequate resources for students who did not speak English. In effect, this meant that schools must now offer both English classes for non-native speakers and classes in other subjects taught in students' native languages. Subsequent Supreme Court cases clarified the full extent of the law. In 1974, the Court ruled that the EEOA mandated that schools offer classes in students' first languages while they learned English as a second language. In 1982, it ruled that, based on the EEOA, undocumented students not only had the right to attend public schools but were obligated to do so, the same as all American children.

Thanks to the EEOA, schools across the country now offer classes in languages other than English, in addition to teaching English to non-native speakers. The act also provided legal recourse for students facing discrimination in public schools, greatly bolstering the progress that was made during the Civil Rights Era.

READ MORE: The Mendez Family Fought School Segregation 8 Years Before Brown v. Board of Ed

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015, and represents good news for our nation’s schools. This bipartisan measure reauthorizes the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students.

The new law builds on key areas of progress in recent years, made possible by the efforts of educators, communities, parents, and students across the country.

For example, today, high school graduation rates are at all-time highs. Dropout rates are at historic lows. And more students are going to college than ever before. These achievements provide a firm foundation for further work to expand educational opportunity and improve student outcomes under ESSA.

The previous version of the law, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, was enacted in 2002. NCLB represented a significant step forward for our nation’s children in many respects, particularly as it shined a light on where students were making progress and where they needed additional support, regardless of race, income, zip code, disability, home language, or background. The law was scheduled for revision in 2007, and, over time, NCLB’s prescriptive requirements became increasingly unworkable for schools and educators. Recognizing this fact, in 2010, the Obama administration joined a call from educators and families to create a better law that focused on the clear goal of fully preparing all students for success in college and careers.

Congress has now responded to that call.

The Every Student Succeeds Act reflects many of the priorities of this administration.

Equity of Opportunity

America is not yet the country it strives to be—a place where all who are willing to work hard can get ahead, join a thriving middle class, and lead fulfilling lives. Our country derives much of its strength from its core value as a land of opportunity. But, today, economic mobility is actually greater in a number of other countries. Despite this challenge, we know how to work toward the solution: access to a world-class education can help to ensure that all children in this country with dreams and determination can reach their potential and succeed.

Yet, far too many students, especially in underserved groups and communities, lack robust access to the core elements of a quality education. That includes free, quality preschool high, challenging standards and engaging teaching and leadership in a safe, supportive, and well-resourced school and an affordable, high-quality college degree.

The Challenge

The challenge of ensuring educational equity is formidable. Our country's international competitors are improving faster than we are educationally, and many are having greater success in closing achievement gaps—which remain stubbornly wide in the United States. Structural barriers, including inequitable funding systems, impede our progress. While one might expect schools in low-income communities to receive extra resources, the reverse is often true a Department of Education study found that 45 percent of high-poverty schools received less state and local funding than was typical for other schools in their district.

We also know that traditionally underserved students, including minorities and low-income students, attend and complete college at far lower rates than their peers. These students are suspended, expelled, and drop out at higher rates, and are less likely to have access to strong teachers and challenging curricula. As just one striking example, a recent study of the Advanced Placement exam in computer science found that in 11 states, no African-American students took the exam in eight states, no Hispanic students participated.

Recognizing these disparities, the Obama Administration is committed to advancing equity in education. That commitment underlies nearly every significant activity for the U.S. Department of Education. We're motivated in this work because we recognize the power of education to transform lives.

A Focus on Educational Equity

Over the last seven years, the Obama Administration has fought to improve outcomes for underserved students through its major education initiatives by supporting states in their efforts to ensure quality teaching in every classroom raise standards for all students build systems to improve instruction and significantly improve low-performing schools.

These aims also underlie foundational formula grant programs, such as those funded through Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as well as competitive programs developed by this Administration, including Promise Neighborhoods, and Investing in Innovation.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act builds on many priorities of this Administration and includes provisions that will help to ensure success for students and schools. Additionally, the President's Ladders of Opportunity and Promise Zones initiatives aim to make rapid, positive change in communities of concentrated poverty. And, in 2015, the Administration provided first-time funding for Native Youth Community Projects to help Native-American and Alaska-Native communities identify and overcome key barriers to improving educational and life outcomes for Native youth.

Funds that support low-income and disabled students (including Pell Grants, which help families to afford college) make up about three-quarters of the funds that the Department distributes. Many of the Department's core activities, such as the enforcement of civil rights laws and regulations, also directly aim to improve equity. In this effort, the Administration has benefited from the guidance of the Equity and Excellence Commission, the work of the President's My Brother's Keeper initiative, which seeks to ensure better outcomes for all young people—particularly young men and boys of color—and the White House Council on Women and Girls.

In 2014, The Departments of Education and Justice, released a first-ever package of guidance and resource materials intended to ensure greater equity in schools by helping districts and educators to address the overuse of exclusionary discipline and disproportionate discipline rates for students of color and students with disabilities. In July 2015, the White House supported this effort by hosting teams of superintendents, principals, and teachers from across the country at a groundbreaking conference to advance the national conversation on positive school climates.

Thanks, in part, to these efforts, America's students are making important progress.

Progress for Students

  • More students than ever are being taught to college- and career-ready standards, and high-quality preschool and higher education are within reach for more families.
  • Our high school graduation rate is the highest ever, at 82 percent, with improvements for students with disabilities, English learners, and other traditionally underserved students.
  • Our high school dropout rate is at a historic low, following steady decreases. The greatest progress has been among minorities.
  • College continues to be the best investment people can make in their futures. College enrollment for black and Hispanic students is up by more than a million since 2008.

Support for Expanding Equity in the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget

The 2017 budget continues to support expanded educational opportunity for all students in three key areas: high-quality early learning stronger and more diverse schools and increased access to evidence and data to drive informed decision-making and better results for students.

  • A renewed call for enactment of President Obama's mandatory, $75 billion Preschool for All proposal, which would provide universal high-quality preschool programs for all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families
  • The budget also includes:
    • $350 million in discretionary funding for the jointly administered Preschool Development Grants program with the Department of Health and Human Services. This amount includes an additional $100 million over the 2016 enacted level to support 18 states' efforts to expand high-quality preschool.
    • An $80 million increase over the 2016 enacted level for preschool and early intervention services for children with disabilities through IDEA Preschool Grants and the IDEA Infants and Toddlers program.

    Supporting local innovation to create stronger, more diverse schools

    Opportunity gaps underneath the outcome gaps

    Still, one could argue that the differences in enrollment in these advanced opportunities reflects something that students bring into school rather than the opportunities that the schools make available. To nail the point that inequality of opportunity is an issue, I want to look at issues of availability. To be pointed, if a student attends a school that doesn’t even offer an AP course, it’s pretty clear that the gap issue is one of opportunity rather than student choice.

    A central issue, of course, is that black and white students don’t attend the same schools. To a great extent, schools remain de facto separate. (For discussion, see Chalkboard posts here, here, here, and here.) The most recent Department of Education Office of Civil Rights data collection reports information from almost 25,000 high schools (defined for our purposes as schools including a 12 th grade). About 15 percent of students are black, but 40 percent of black students are in majority-black schools, and only 24 percent of black students attend majority-white schools. There was a time when many thought “separate but equal” was viable. Are opportunities in our still largely separate schools now equal?

    Only 36 percent of high schools where the majority of students are black offer a calculus course. In contrast, 60 percent of majority white schools offer calculus. It’s hard to see how this makes for equal opportunity.

    Ensuring Equal Opportunity in Public Education

    The intense international competition that our country faces in today&rsquos global economy demands that all of America&rsquos youth receive the kind of education that they need and deserve. Yet our public education system is failing us.

    In order to repair this broken system, the United States must confront the fact that inequality continues to plague our public schools. One of the most harmful manifestations of this is that local school district funding is allocated in a way that hurts poor and minority students. A study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that educational funding is being allocated on the basis of "staff allocations, program-specific formulae, squeaky-wheel politics, property wealth, and any number of other factors that have little to do with the needs of students."

    The outcome of such practices is predictable: A further widening of the dangerous achievement gap that has become endemic in American schools today. Fortunately, smart federal policy can help to fix this situation.

    The four papers that make up this volume explore perhaps the most important component of this mismatch of U.S. educational resources&mdashinequality in the funding of local schools by their own school districts. Nationwide, local school districts account for about 50 percent of all public school operating costs, which means these districts&rsquo budgeting practices have a greater direct effect than state or federal education investments. Indirectly, however, existing federal legislation condones and has historically supported the way local school districts fund their schools. Federal education funding requirements, in short, exacerbate existing inequality in education at the local level.

    This happens because of language in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the so-called "comparability provision," which was supposed to promote equality of education but indeed does not. Its basic notion is that state and local funds for schools should be equitable before federal Title I funds are added to schools with large concentrations of low-income students. The comparability provision, however, also contains what some of us call a "loophole" that allows longstanding ways that local funds have been inequitably distributed to continue.

    Specifically, districts have historically allocated funds to their schools not by giving a dollar amount to each school, but instead by allocating "staff" resources to schools. As Marguerite Roza points out in this volume, "Most teaching positions and other staff full time equivalents, or FTEs, are assigned on the basis of enrollments. The formula might, for example, call for a teacher for every 25 students. The problem arises when staff FTEs are translated to real dollars."

    The difference in actual school expenditures are often substantial because teachers&rsquo salaries are based on their experience and credits or degrees earned, and because high-poverty schools have many more less experienced, lower paid teachers and much more turnover than low-poverty schools. Roza found in her research in Baltimore "that when teachers at one school in a high-poverty neighborhood were paid an average of $37,618, at another school in the same district, the average teacher&rsquos salary was $57,000." Assuming the same number of teachers in each school&mdashsay 20&mdashthe difference in dollars available for the two schools is $387,640.

    Transferring highly paid teachers against their will to even out expenditures seems nonsensical, yet if such an extra amount were available to a high-poverty school then there are numerous good uses for it, including employing master and mentor teachers as coaches, offering bonuses to recruit and retain effective teachers, and lengthening the school day or year to expand learning time for students. This is a complex topic, however, as one would expect of budget processes involving local, state, and federal funding spread across thousands of school districts across the country. That&rsquos why we present in this package of reports:

    • The history of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its comparability provision
    • The unexpected consequences of the comparability provision in practice
    • The ways in which Title I might be fixed
    • The ways in which those fixes might be implemented with positive results

    If a more sensible Title I comparability provision were enacted, then there is little doubt that local school districts would have to change the way they allocate and account for funding of their schools, which over time would ensure that a more fair and equitable local educational funding process would take hold across the country. This would be a major step in repairing the broken system of American school finance, and would reverberate through the hallways of American schools as disadvantaged students gained the educational opportunities they need to compete in today&rsquos global economy.

    How We Got Where We Are Today

    For over 40 years, federal policymakers and education advocates alike celebrated the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, especially Title I, which together with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 heralded a major new role of the federal government&mdashto guarantee equal education opportunity nationwide. And for a while there was reason to celebrate as the federal government and new federal education statutes empowered educational leaders to see to it that more and more disadvantaged American kids received the equal education they deserved.

    The guarantee to an equal education has never been fully realized&mdasheven though the federal government has never wavered in its promotion of equal opportunity in education. Unfortunately, this guarantee to an equal education has never been fully realized&mdasheven though the federal government has never wavered in its promotion of equal opportunity in education. As many analysts have documented, despite the federal help for schools with large concentrations of poor students, schools and districts with many low-income students continue to receive less than their fair share of funding&mdashbased on student need&mdashup and down the nation&rsquos highly decentralized system of public education.

    The federal government does distribute Title I money based on poverty, but it does so through a formula that combines numbers of children in poverty with state per-student expenditures. This practice penalizes states with low-tax bases even if they tax themselves relatively heavily for education. Many states have developed fairer state funding systems, often as a result of years of litigation in state courts. But as the papers in this volume make clear, there has been little change in the inequitable way that local school districts fund their schools.

    Almost all large school districts (sometimes unknowingly) expend more dollars on personnel and services in schools with fewer low-income students. Given the 50 percent local share of public school funding, this so-called "within-district" inequality has tragic consequences, as documented by the usually lower performance of students in schools with many poor students. This has not changed even after a new, standards-based framework for public education took hold nationwide in the mid-1990s.

    This new approach to public education called for high learning expectations for all students. It was subsequently made real by the adoption of accountability systems through state legislation and the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act under a new name, the Improving America&rsquos School Act, alongside the enactment of Goals 2000, which required state adoption of rigorous curriculum standards and new state tests to measure student performance against these standards. Then, in 2001, the next education reauthorization brought us the No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2002. NCLB enacted a tough performance standard, requiring that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. States were required to assess students annually in grades 3 to 8, and report on their performance by subgroup, including for students from low-income families.

    The presidential and congressional motivation behind the NCLB upgrade of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was to put increased pressure on state and local education policymakers to focus on the educational needs and learning results of disadvantaged students&mdashwhether they came from low-income or minority group families, families whose first language was not English, or students with disabilities. The federal government substantially increased its support for high-poverty schools for a couple of years after the passage of the NCLB Act. But state and local policymakers never leveled the educational playing fields with their funds, and the federal government did not push them to do so.

    The upshot: unequal funding of high- and low-poverty schools continues with local, state, and federal funds. No wonder achievement gaps sometimes seem intractable.

    While the harm falls most heavily on low-income students, the unfairness to hard-working teachers, principals, and other staff in the schools of these students is almost as tragic. It is fundamentally unfair to hold educators accountable for reaching the uniform high standards of NCLB when the monetary tools with which they are provided are so unequal. But what&rsquos encouraging for students, teachers, and administrators alike is that federal legislators can correct these inequities if they take the time to understand the complex issues at hand in their states and congressional districts and then act on some of the lessons already learned by select school districts now experimenting with new ways to budget education funds.

    The Way Toward Solutions

    In this volume, our four authors look at virtually all aspects of the federal and local "comparability" issue. While each is an advocate for major change, they don&rsquot always agree in their analyses or on a preferred course of action. That&rsquos neither surprising nor desirable given the diffuse magnitude of the problem. But what&rsquos most encouraging is that the logic of their arguments point toward similar policy conclusions.

    The first paper, "The History of Educational Comparability in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965,"is by Phyllis McClure, an independent consultant and longtime student of ESEA Title I since its passage, and a consistent advocate for improvements to Title I. McClure traces the history of the debate around the enactment of Title I in 1965, and the problems with its early implementation, which led Congress in 1970 to add the comparability provision as well as other provisions to tighten up how Title I educational funds were spent.

    McClure then discusses the initial federal efforts to enforce the comparability provision in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by 20 years of lax enforcement, and then more recent renewed attention to enforcement. She concludes by describing the current context of school funding and its relation to the comparability provision, and then making recommendations for securing the fiscal integrity of Title I funds.

    The second paper, "Strengthening Comparability: Advancing Equity in Public Education," is by Ross Wiener, vice president for program and policy of the Education Trust. In his paper, Wiener discusses the importance and shortcomings of the comparability provision. He describes in detail how the weak comparability provisions of Title I allow funding gaps to persist, providing several examples from local school districts.

    Wiener then explains why this is so harmful, turning next to discuss the important and positive changes to the comparability provisions that were included in the "discussion draft" of the No Child Left Behind Act reauthorization proposal issued by the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and the Ranking Member of the Committee. Rep. Howard P. McKeon (R-CA) in the summer of 2007. Wiener concludes with recommendations for strengthening the comparability provision.

    The third paper, "What If We Closed the Title I Comparability Loophole?" is by Marguerite Roza, research associate professor at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington. Her paper explores why the current comparability provision falls so short of what is needed, and the reasons for modifying it. She discusses why federal leadership is important, and outlines budgeting and funding considerations that need to be taken into account in making a change. Roza then explores the likely effects of these proposed changes on high-poverty schools. In the end, she suggests that the best way to restore the comparability guidelines of Title I to their original intent is by requiring school districts to equalize per-pupil dollar expenditures before accepting federal funds. In this way, the federal government can be proactive without micromanaging the budgeting processes of myriad local school districts.

    The final paper, "Funding Schools Equitably: Results Based Budgeting at Oakland Unified School District," is by Matt Hill, executive officer of strategic projects for the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, California. Hill examines why "Oakland Unified" decided to change the way it funded each of its individual schools, how the sprawling school district managed the process, and the relevance of the experience to the reform of Title I comparability provisions.

    Hill provides a thorough overview of the Oakland school district&rsquos history and budget reform strategy, and then delves into a detailed explanation of Oakland Unified&rsquos so-called "Results-Based Budgeting," and how this process differs from other equitable funding allocation models used around the country and in Canada. He then discusses the implementation of Results-Based Budgeting, and then the results, the challenges, and the lessons learned along the way.

    Hill concludes with recommendations for federal and state authorities to consider when they map out policies to help local school districts address the inequities caused by traditional funding models. And his conclusions are important because Oakland Unified is the only local school district in the country to fully implement equitable funding of all of its schools on a per-school, per-pupil basis..

    Hill and the other three authors arrive at some uniform conclusions about ineffective and inequitable educational spending by the federal government on Title I schools. More importantly, each one in a different fashion points the way toward solutions to a complex budgeting issue that is a root funding cause of our ill-performing public schools. Together, these four papers make an invaluable contribution to the debate over how to fix our public school system. They point the way for the next administration and the next Congress to fix federal funding for Title I schools. For the future of all American children and our country, these changes can&rsquot come a moment too soon.


    Language and educational policies for children new to English in the United States continue almost spontaneously. This appears to be influenced by immediate social, political, and economic factors. Data obtained from the 2000 Census have revealed that the number of children between the ages of 5 and 17 who speak a language other than English has increased by over 54% from the previous 1990 Census. This information is derived from self-reported language use and proficiency, and interpretation of the data by language and education policymakers is just beginning to emerge. Policymakers will likely use these data to formulate, alter, and institute language and educational policies affecting children for whom English is a new language. Such policies will ultimately affect classroom practice and the ways in which English language learners (ELLs) throughout the United States are educated.

    Since 1990, the ELL student population in the U.S. has increased by 95%, while the school-age population in general has grown only 12% (Northeast and Islands, 2003). Although the United States does not have an official national language policy delineating specific language policies and practices for schools, many states have passed language policy legislation that ensures the status of English over other languages. Spanish speakers account for approximately 60% of the total number of ELLs in the United States.

    This Web site is devoted to exploring current language and educational policies with emphasis on how these policies can be put into practice. We have highlighted the following areas:

    • A legal rationale for establishing and implementing policy protective of English language learners
    • The demographic relevance of ELL policy development for rural schools
    • Guidelines for crafting a plan that includes indicators for school/district readiness, ELL identification, assessment, support systems, exit criteria, and the measurement of policy impact.

    Legal Rationale

    The foundation for providing ELLs equitable access to learning began with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Supreme Court opinions, case law precedent, and congressional actions following passage of this law have strengthened the legal rationale for assuring that ELLs receive an equitable education appropriate to their linguistic and academic needs. With these protections, there is ongoing, improved clarification about the implementation of instructional practices that ensure equitable access for all ELLs in publicly supported programs and practices. Schools are bound by legal provisions that support English language learners.

    The educational rights of school-age English language learners have been safeguarded through a series of legislative acts and court decisions (see Legal Provisions) that have occurred since the 19th century. The following information from the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center is a basic timeline for legal milestones:

    United States Constitution - Fourteenth Amendment: No person is denied the protection of the laws of the United States.

    Civil Rights Act - Title VI: "No person shall, on the grounds of race, color or national origin, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal Financial assistance."

    Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA): This act states that schools need to take appropriate measures to overcome language barriers that impede students' participation in programs.

    Supreme Court Case -- Lau v. Nichols: The court ruled that giving all students the same desks, books, teachers, and lessons does not mean that they have equal opportunity, especially if there are students who do not speak English.

    Federal Court Case -- Serna v. Portales: The court ascertained that Spanish surnamed individuals did not reach the same achievement levels as non-Spanish surnamed peers. The court ordered the Portales Municipal School District to design and implement a bilingual and bicultural program.

    Federal Court Case -- Castaneda v. Pickard:The Fifth Circuit Court established a three-part test to determine if school districts are complying with the EEOA of 1974. The requirements include:

    1. Theory - The school must implement a program based on sound educational theory or, at a minimum, a legitimate experimental program design.
    2. Practice - The school district must put into practice the educational program they have designed. They must allocate the necessary personnel and practices to transfer theory to practice.
    3. Results - The school must stop programs that fail to produce results.

    Supreme Court Case - Plyler v. Doe: The court ruled that schools cannot deny students access simply because they are undocumented (illegal) aliens. In other words, the schools are not agencies or agents for enforcing immigration law.

    Federal Court Case - Gomez v. Illinois: The court ruled that the State Educational Agencies must also comply with the three-point test established in Castaneda v. Pickard.

    No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 - This act makes federal funding for states dependent on student progress. According to the act: "States that do not meet their performance objectives for LEP students could lose up to ten percent of the administrative portion of their funding for all ESEA state administered formula grant programs."

    Why should a school district have a policy in place specifically for its English language learners? School districts must implement policies for equal access of students for whom English is a second or new language. Those policies are set at the level of the local school board, but they may never supersede federal or state law. These policies may be referred to as a Lau Plan or an Equal Access Plan and may supplement a more comprehensive plan protective of the rights of all students. The important point is that school districts must develop policy, and practice must reflect that policy. It may be helpful to view some examples of common misunderstandings that may arise regarding the need for an Equal Access Plan.

    Of course, educational policies created at the national level are negotiated at the state and local school district levels as supports are provided to schools, teachers, and their students. In this way, federal policies affect classroom practice in the micro-interactions that occur between teachers and students (Cummins, 2001). Faced with the task of providing consistent and quality instruction within the current socio-cultural climate, content area and English-as-a-second-language teachers, as well as building administrators, are often left to navigate policy complexities and even contradictions with no support beyond their borders. Their tasks are uniquely daunting, given the complexity and interaction of the varied social, political, legal, and economic contexts needed to support the nation's 5 million English language learners, 40% of whom are enrolled in rural schools.

    How effective is your school's equity policy? Take this quiz to determine your school's Equity Policy Quotient (EPQ).

    Cummins, J. (2001). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

    Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory. (2003).Claiming opportunities: A handbook for improving education for English language learners through comprehensive school reform. Providence, RI: Brown University.

    The Equal Educational Opportunities Act takes effect - HISTORY

    U.S. Department of Education

    U.S. Department of Education!
    Office for Civil Rights
    Washington, DC 20202-1328

    In recent years, there has been a surge of immigrants with limited English language skills to the United States. In addition, many children of immigrant parents and children who are Native American and Alaskan Native enter school with limited ability to learn in English. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) estimates that there are 2.4 million national-origin minority school children who have limited English language skills which affect their ability to participate effectively in education programs and achieve high academic standards.

    The insufficient English language proficiency of these students often results in classroom failure and school drop-out. Many students either are ill-equipped for higher education or lack the required skills to obtain productive employment. To resolve these problems, students must have an equal opportunity to benefit from education programs offered by their school districts.

    The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within ED has responsibility for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

    School districts receiving federal financial assistance may not, on the basis of race, color, or national origin:

    provide services, financial aid, or other benefits that are different or provide them in a different manner
    restrict an individual's enjoyment of an advantage or privilege enjoyed by others
    deny an individual the right to participate in federally assisted programs and
    defeat or substantially impair the objectives of federally assisted programs.

    These Title VI regulatory requirements have been interpreted to prohibit denial of equal access to education because of a student's limited proficiency in English. Title VI protects students who are so limited in their English language skills that they are unable to participate in or benefit from regular or special education instructional programs.


    During the late 1960s, OCR staff became aware that many school districts made little or no provision for students who were unable to understand English, even though there were substantial numbers of these students enrolled in their districts.

    In an effort to resolve this problem, in 1970, OCR issued a memorandum to school districts titled the Identification of Discrimination and Denial of Services on the Basis of National Origin. The purpose of the memorandum was to clarify Title VI requirements concerning school districts' responsibility to provide equal education opportunity to language-minority students.

    The 1970 memorandum stated, in part:

    Where the inability to speak and understand the English language excludes national origin minority group children from effective participation in the educational program offered by a school district, the district must take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency in order to open its instructional program to these students.

    Although the memorandum requires school districts to take affirmative steps, it does not prescribe the content of these steps. However, it explains that Title VI is violated if:

    students are excluded from effective participation in school because of their inability to speak and understand the language of instruction

    national-origin minority students are misassigned to classes for the mentally retarded because of their lack of English skills programs for students whose English is less than proficient are not designed to teach them English as soon as possible, or if these programs operate as a dead-end track or parents whose English is limited do not receive school notices and other information in a language they can understand.

    In the 1974 Lau v. Nichols case, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1970 memorandum as a valid interpretation of the requirements of Title VI. The Supreme Court stated that, "[T]here is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education."

    In 1985, OCR issued "The Office for Civil Rights' Title VI Language Minority Compliance Procedures," which outlines OCR policy with regard to the education of language-minority students and Title VI compliance standards. In 1991, OCR issued an update, "Policy Update on Schools' Obligations Toward National Origin Minority Students with Limited-English Proficiency (LEP students)."

    The 1970 memorandum, and the 1985 and 1991 documents, explain the relevant legal standards for OCR policy concerning discrimination on the basis of national origin in the provision of education services to LEP students at the elementary and secondary level.


    When investigating complaints and conducting compliance reviews of school districts regarding equal education opportunity for national-origin minority students who are limited English proficient (LEP), OCR considers two general issue areas:

    whether there is a need for the district to provide a special language service program (an alternative language program) to meet the education needs of all language-minority students and
    whether the district's alternative language program is likely to be effective in meeting the education needs of its language-minority students.

    The question of need for an alternative language program is resolved by determining whether LEP students are able to participate effectively in the regular instructional program. When they are not, the school district must provide an alternative program. In cases where the number of these students is small, the alternative program may be informal.

    Educators have not reached consensus about the most effective way to meet the education needs of LEP students. Many factors affect the types of education programs that school districts may offer, including the number of students or the variety of languages they speak.

    Consequently, OCR allows school districts broad discretion concerning how to ensure equal education opportunity for LEP students. OCR does not prescribe a specific intervention strategy or type of program that a school district must adopt to serve LEP students, nor does OCR require school districts to teach students in their primary language. Educational approaches that are recognized as sound by some experts in the field may reasonably be expected to ensure the effective participation of LEP students in the total education program.

    The following procedures should be used by school districts to ensure that their programs are serving LEP students effectively. Districts should:

    identify students who need assistance
    develop a program which, in the view of experts in the field, has a reasonable chance for success
    ensure that necessary staff, curricular materials, and facilities are in place and used properly
    develop appropriate evaluation standards, including program exit criteria, for measuring the progress of students and
    assess the success of the program and modify it where needed.

    In considering whether there is a need for the district to provide a special language service outside of the regular program and whether the alternative program is likely to be effective, OCR examines some important issues listed below.

    Whether a district has identified all LEP students who need special language assistance

    A school district must be able to account for all of its LEP students. A small district may be able to do this informally. A large district, or one with a great number of students whose first language or home language is not English, must have a formal system for objectively identifying students whose limited proficiency in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding English denies them the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the regular education environment.

    Whether a district can ensure the placement of LEP students in appropriate programs

    Once a school district has identified students who need assistance, it must determine what types of assistance are warranted.

    Whether all LEP students who need a special language assistance program are being provided such a program

    A school district must ensure that all LEP students receive English-language development services.

    Whether a district has taken steps to modify a program for LEP students when that program is not working

    If the district's alternative language services program is not successful after a reasonable time period, the district must take steps to determine the cause of the program's failure and modify it accordingly.

    Whether a district ensures that LEP students are not misidentified as students with disabilities because of their inability to speak and understand English

    If national-origin minority students are not proficient in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding English, testing them in English may not demonstrate their ability or achievement skills. Steps must be taken so that LEP students are not assigned to special education classes because of their lack of English language proficiency, rather than because they have a disability.

    Whether a school district ensures that parents who are not proficient in English are provided with appropriate and sufficient information about all school activities

    School districts have a responsibility to adequately notify national-origin minority parents of school activities that are called to the attention of other parents. Notification must be sufficient so that parents can make well-informed decisions about the participation of their children in a district's programs and services. Districts may be required to provide notification in the parents' home language.

    Anyone wishing additional information regarding the provision of equal education opportunity to LEP students may contact the OCR enforcement office serving his or her state or territory.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn renewed attention to inequality in K-12 education in the United States. Some schools and systems have quickly transitioned to high-quality distance learning, while others have struggled to provide students with effective learning experiences.

    While the context is new, these inequalities predate the pandemic. Even after decades of increases in per-pupil spending and ongoing waves of reform, there are huge disparities in the quality of public schools, even those within the same district and just blocks away from one another. And access to the best public schools is often restricted based on where you live.

    Take two schools, for example, that serve the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. Lincoln Elementary is one of the crown jewels of the Chicago Public Schools, with 80% of the students proficient in reading. Just over a mile south is Manierre Elementary, where not a single graduating eighth grader tested proficient in reading in 2019.

    What keeps the two schools separate? An attendance zone boundary. Children who live north of North Avenue enroll in elite Lincoln Elementary. Children south of North Avenue are not allowed to enroll in Lincoln and are assigned to failing Manierre. For a child in Old Town, your fate turns on whether you live on one side of the street or the other.

    This is an American phenomenon. In nearly every city the pattern is the same: State law allows (or even requires) the district to draw attendance zones showing who gets to attend which schools. Districts use the lines to determine who can enroll in these elite, high-performing public schools. Young families respond to the policies by cramming into the coveted zone, driving up home prices. Other parents lie about their address to gain access. The divide between the two schools, often just blocks apart, grows over time.

    The Supreme Court ended overt segregation of the public schools with its 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Conventional wisdom says that school districts, in accordance with Brown, can assign children to schools in any way that they want, as long as they don’t discriminate based on race.

    But conventional wisdom has forgotten about the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.

    The School Nearest Your Residence

    In March 1972, President Nixon was feeling boxed in by the issue of desegregation. Many federal courts had signed off on busing plans that would force the integration of public schools in districts that had previously engaged in overt segregation. But members of both parties—including Joe Biden—opposed federal-court-ordered busing.

    Nixon opposed busing, but he also wanted to express sympathy for children caught in failing schools that were divided along racial lines. So, on March 17, he delivered an address to the American people, offering a compromise. He proposed a moratorium on federally mandated busing but also a “companion measure” called the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which would increase funding for inner-city schools, especially those attended by minorities.

    That law, the EEOA, wouldn’t be signed for another two years. Presidents Nixon and Ford would have to negotiate with lawmakers in order to get it through the Democratic Congress. The resulting law is a strange mix of high-minded goals and status-quo-ism. It’s all there in the first sentence of the law:

    The Congress declares it to be the policy of the United States that—(1) all children enrolled in public schools are entitled to equal educational opportunity without regard to race, color, sex, or national origin and (2) the neighborhood is the appropriate basis for determining public school assignments.

    On the one hand, it promises equal opportunity.

    On the other hand, it endorses neighborhood-based schools and district-drawn attendance zones. Given the existence of racially segregated neighborhoods, neighborhood-based schools would, by default, mean schools divided along racial lines. The EEOA also implicitly endorses the assignment of students to schools by the district or the state, rather than a more open system in which parents would play a more active role in determining which public school their child attends.

    However, here is what Section 1703 of the EEOA has to say about the assignment of minority children to public schools:

    No State shall deny equal educational opportunity to an individual on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, by . . . the assignment by an educational agency of a student to a school, other than the one closest to his or her place of residence within the school district in which he or she resides, if the assignment results in a greater degree of segregation of students on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin…

    The full implications of that language have not yet been widely understood. For minority children, federal law defines the neighborhood school as “the one closest to his or her place of residence within the school district in which he or she resides.” And Congress prohibits the district from assigning a minority child to another school, if it will result in “a greater degree of segregation.”

    What is this peculiar, misshapen thing that we call an attendance zone? It’s an administrative service area. Government bureaucrats carve up the map and determine who gets preferred enrollment at what school. There are no elected officials at the attendance-zone level—and no political representation. The residents of a school zone are not subject to special taxes that go to the local school. An attendance zone is also a license to discriminate. If the school is full (most of the best schools are), then the attendance zone provides the school with the ability to exclude families who live within the district’s jurisdictional boundaries but outside of the arbitrary zone for that school as drawn by district staff.

    Note here that I’m not talking about the boundaries between school districts, which are political subdivisions. Those lines are jurisdictional. As governmental entities, school districts are typically overseen by elected or appointed board members. School districts often have the legal authority to assess taxes on their constituents or issue bonds in order to fund the district’s activities. That’s not true at the attendance zone level.

    Most attendance zones are irregular in shape, which means that there are many pockets where families whose closest school is highly coveted (and high performing) are assigned to another school that may be struggling or even failing. The existence of these pockets appears to be in violation of the EEOA.

    Figure 1 shows the attendance zone for Mount Washington Elementary in Los Angeles and the seven elementary schools that encircle it. At highly coveted Mount Washington, 75% of the students were proficient in reading in 2019, while the surrounding schools have reading proficiency rates between 16% and 54%. As a result, families pay a premium of $200,000 or more for a house that falls on the right side of the Mount Washington attendance zone boundary.

    Figure 1. Mount Washington Elementary in Los Angeles violates a federal civil rights law that prohibits minority students from being assigned to a school that is not the nearest to their home if it exacerbates segregation.

    Source: California Department of Education and Los Angeles Unified School District.

    For families who live in the striped areas of the map, Mount Washington is their closest school. Because Mount Washington is so much “whiter” than the surrounding schools, L.A. Unified School District is creating a “greater degree of segregation” by assigning minority students living in those striped areas to other, more distant schools. Any minority student living in those areas—black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American—could file a claim in the federal courts, asking the courts to force Mount Washington Elementary to allow them an equal opportunity to enroll.

    Similar maps could be created for any number of public schools in American cities. P.S. 8 in Brooklyn. John Hay Elementary in Seattle. Lakewood Elementary in Dallas. Mary Lin Elementary in Atlanta. Lincoln Elementary in Chicago. Ivanhoe Elementary in Los Angeles. Chesterton Elementary in San Diego. Penn Alexander Elementary in Philadelphia. Each of these schools is a coveted public school showing above-average student performance, and each is surrounded by underperforming schools with high concentrations of poor, minority students.

    Other sections of the law provide more clarity about exactly what is permitted and what is illegal. Section 1704 explicitly states that districts do not have to maintain a balance “on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin.” Racially imbalanced schools are not in violation of the law, as long as minority students have not been assigned to schools farther from their home.

    Also, it’s perfectly legal under the EEOA for the district to assign a minority child to a school that is not the nearest to their residence, if it does not exacerbate segregation. Take a Hispanic child whose closest school is Aragon Avenue Elementary, which has only 3% white students and only 16% overall proficiency in reading. The district is free to assign that child to attend Mount Washington Elementary, because such an assignment would alleviate segregation, rather than exacerbate it. And minority students are free to choose a school that is not nearest to their homes, regardless of its impact on segregation, because the district has not assigned them there.

    Section 1705 says that “assignment on neighborhood basis [is] not a denial of equal educational opportunity.” On the surface, this appears to provide legal cover for attendance zones. But Congress, perhaps anticipating that districts could play games with the meaning of the word neighborhood, reiterates once again a very specific definition of a neighborhood school: It is “the school nearest [the student’s] place of residence.”

    There is surprisingly little case law relevant to the EEOA. The major cases all deal with other provisions of the law, such as its requirement that states and districts take “appropriate action” to overcome obstacles to education that arise from language barriers. I’ve been unable to find any case law that interprets and applies the clause of the EEOA that governs student assignment.

    Neighborhood map detail for P.S. 8 Robert Fulton in Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Available to All on Equal Terms?

    The harder you look at attendance zones, the more they appear to violate fundamental principles. Isn’t public education supposed to be “the Great Equalizer” providing equal opportunity for all children, regardless of race or income level? Aren’t we all supposed to be treated equally under the law?

    In the landmark ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, Chief Justice Warren wrote:

    In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

    Sixty-six years after the Brown ruling, public education is still not “available to all on equal terms.” In 1951, they used Linda Brown’s race to keep her out of Sumner Elementary School. In 2020, they use a meandering line drawn through the neighborhood to keep many local children out of Mount Washington Elementary.

    After studying this issue for several years, I’ve come to the conclusion that attendance zones are—and should be—vulnerable to legal challenge. This vulnerability extends beyond an EEOA challenge to the shape of a particular zone.

    Look first at the state constitutions. There are seven states in which the state constitution requires the legislature to establish schools that are “open to all”: Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, and South Dakota. This is the question for those state courts: If a school can decline to enroll a child solely based on his or her residential address within the district, is that school truly “open to all” the residents of the district? I don’t think that it is.

    Similarly, five states promise “equality of educational opportunity.” Louisiana, Montana, and North Carolina mention this phrase (or something very similar) in their state constitution. The Supreme Courts of New Jersey and Tennessee have inferred that a similar constitutional right exists in those states. When a school-district official draws a geographic attendance-zone boundary assigning one child to a great school and denying enrollment to another child on the opposite side of the street, the district fails to provide the “equality of opportunity” that is promised by those five states.

    Neighborhood map detail for John Hay Elementary in Seattle, Wash.

    But those aren’t the only states where attendance-zone boundaries may be vulnerable. In 13 states (including three that also have an “open to all” requirement), the courts have already declared education to be a “fundamental right.” In these states, the courts are required to apply “strict scrutiny” to any classifications that create unequal access to public schools. What’s important about strict scrutiny is that it transfers the burden of proof to the government, requiring them to show that the discrimination was necessary to further a “compelling governmental interest” and that the policy was “narrowly tailored” to achieve that interest.

    Enrollment exclusions based on geography are hardly “narrowly tailored.” Indeed, in most states, charter schools are forbidden from establishing geographic attendance zones. Defenders of geographic zoning would be forced to argue that the government has a “compelling interest” in setting up exclusionary boundaries for some public schools, while forbidding them for others.

    An even bigger question is whether attendance zones are vulnerable to challenge in the federal courts under the 14th Amendment’s promise of Equal Protection. Don’t these exclusionary zones violate Justice Warren’s commitment to the idea that a public education must be “available to all on equal terms”?

    On the surface, it is an easy idea to dismiss. The federal courts only apply strict scrutiny to government actions when a “fundamental right” is restricted or a “suspect classification” is employed. But education is not a “fundamental right” under the U.S. Constitution, and classifications based on where you live do not create a suspect class as defined by the courts. Without strict scrutiny, such policies would face little risk of being overturned.

    However, the Supreme Court’s original definition of Equal Protection, outlined in the early 1900s, appears to be at odds with the geographical enrollment preferences and attendance-zone boundaries that emerged in the mid-1900s and continue to be used today. In one of the first key cases that applied the concept of equal protection in a case that did not involve race (Royster Guano Company v. Virginia, 1920), the court said the following:

    The classification must be reasonable, not arbitrary, and must rest upon some ground of difference having a fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation, so that all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike.

    It seems clear that two children, living across the street from one another and within the jurisdictional boundaries of the same school district, are “similarly circumstanced” relative to the laws that establish the educational system. Are those two children “treated alike” when one is assigned to an elite public school and the other turned away because of where she lives?

    A case in the federal courts would focus on asking the judges to apply “intermediate scrutiny” to these discriminatory laws and policies, as they have done in other high-stakes cases involving equal access to public institutions of education. In Plyler v. Doe (1982), the Court overturned a Texas law that authorized school districts to deny enrollment to children who were undocumented immigrants. The Court applied the standard in Brown that education “must be made available to all on equal terms.” In US v. Virginia (1996), the Court struck down the male-only admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute because the State had failed to provide a “substantially comparable” alternative to women who had been turned away. No court could fairly deem Manierre Elementary to be “substantially comparable” to Lincoln Elementary.

    Some will argue that it is very unlikely that the courts will use the Equal Protection clause to strike down a policy that has such a long history in our country and that is so widespread. Could be. But we should all be troubled that attendance zones appear, at the very least, to violate the spirit of equal protection.

    One Supreme Court justice, writing in 1992, saw the wisdom in focusing on equal access in the public schools. Justice Antonin Scalia argued that we should open up the public schools to all comers, imagining an educational system “in which parents are free to disregard neighborhood-school assignment, and to send their children (with transportation paid) to whichever school they choose.”

    In a concurring opinion in the Freeman v. Pitts desegregation case, Justice Scalia argued that the Court could have taken a different approach in the years after the Brown decision. By overseeing complicated desegregation plans, the Court had waded deeper and deeper into the operations of school districts, prescribing all sorts of bureaucratic remedies that might in theory transform a “segregated” district into a “unitary” one.

    Instead, Justice Scalia proposed that the court could have simply focused on school access:

    An observer unfamiliar with the history surrounding this issue might suggest that we avoid the problem by requiring only that the school authorities establish a regime in which parents are free to disregard neighborhood-school assignment, and to send their children (with transportation paid) to whichever school they choose. So long as there is free choice, he would say, there is no reason to require that the schools be made identical. The constitutional right is equal racial access to schools, not access to racially equal schools.

    To Scalia, equal access was a more justiciable question—a question more appropriate for the courts to weigh in on—than the question of what actions could be taken to transform a “segregated” district into a “unitary” one.

    In the same opinion, Scalia predicted that the Court’s longstanding approach to desegregation was destined to make the courts irrelevant, as districts removed all remnants of overt (or de jure) segregation. And his prediction was right: Today almost all school districts are judged to be “unitary,” despite stark ongoing divisions of race and class, since they are far enough removed from any overt policies that segregated the schools by race.

    Focusing on access, as Scalia suggested, would restore the courts’ rightful role as a guardian of equal opportunity in the schools. It would not mean that a child has a right to attend a specific school. Good public schools are scarce, especially in the inner cities. Great public schools are even harder to find. Not everyone will be able to attend the best school in the district. But all district residents should have an equal opportunity to enroll in the best schools in the district. In a public school lottery, for example, there are winners and losers. The results may seem frustrating or even tragic. But a lottery gives every district family a fair chance—an equal opportunity—to enroll their child at a coveted school that could dramatically change his or her life trajectory.

    We may feel sympathy for people who might be harmed by rulings that would open these elite schools to all residents of a district. Take a family who has paid $250,000 more for a house because of its guaranteed access to an elite public school. Those parents wanted to secure the best education for their children, and that’s laudable. But that doesn’t mean we should continue to block open access to these public schools.

    In some ways, these people are like the taxi companies in New York City. Taxi companies paid millions of dollars for “medallions” allowing them to operate taxis within the city. For years, these medallion owners fought off efforts to issue more medallions—and improve taxi service for millions of New Yorkers—because they wanted to be protected from competition. With the emergence of ride-sharing services such as Uber, the medallions lost much of their value. And taxi companies have attempted to use their political clout to block such services and retain their protected position.

    But the courts have said no. Buying a taxi medallion does not mean that you are protected from disruptive competition until the end of time. Likewise, buying a house that gives you preferential access to a public school does not mean that you will be able to keep other families out forever.

    If the courts look to open up the public schools, perhaps the most appropriate ruling would be a narrow one that simply forbade school districts from using a resident child’s address to determine their eligibility for any school within the district. Instead of being forced to implement a specific court-endorsed remedy, districts would be free to experiment with different allocation methods that don’t rely on geography.

    Religious Discrimination

    Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorizes the Attorney General to address certain equal protection violations based on religion, among other bases, in public schools and institutions of higher education. The Educational Opportunities Section works to ensure that all persons regardless of their religion are provided equal educational opportunities. The Section's work includes addressing discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion, and spans all religious affiliations. For examples, view the cases list.

    Racial and Ethnic Achievement Gaps

    Racial and ethnic inequality in education has a long and persistent history in the United States. Beginning in 1954, however, when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional, some progress has been made in improving racial educational disparities. But that progress has been slow, uneven, and incomplete.

    One key set of measures of racial educational equality are racial achievement gaps—differences in the average standardized test scores of white and black or white and Hispanic students. Achievement gaps are one way of monitoring the equality of educational outcomes.

    The series of figures below describe recent trends and patterns in racial achievement gaps.

    Over the past 40 years, white-black and white-Hispanic achievement gaps have been declining, albeit unsteadily.

    Every few years, a sample of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds from around the United States are given tests in math and reading as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP, sometimes called "The Nation’s Report Card," is designed to provide the public and policymakers with an objective assessment of the math and reading skills of American children. Because NAEP has used the same tests since the 1970s, we can use it to compare the reading and math skills of children today with those of their parents’ generation. We can also use NAEP to examine trends in the white-black and white-Hispanic achievement gaps. These trends are illustrated in the figure below.

    White-black and white-Hispanic achievement gaps have, in general, narrowed substantially since the 1970s in all grades and in both math and reading. The gaps narrowed sharply in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, but then progress stalled. In fact, some of the achievement gaps grew larger in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Since the 1990s, however, achievement gaps in every grade and subject have been declining. As of 2012, the white-black and white-Hispanic achievement gaps were 30-40% smaller than they were in the 1970s. Nonetheless, the gaps are still very large, ranging from 0.5 to 0.9 standard deviations.

    How to read this figure

    Each line in the figure shows the trend in the achievement gap in math or reading for a specific pair of racial/ethnic groups (white-black or white-Hispanic) at a particular age (9-, 13-, or 17-years-old). The achievement gaps are measured in standard deviation units (for more information on how the gaps are computed, see here). The trend lines are smoothed from the gaps estimated in various years. Holding the mouse over a line will reveal the underlying data from which the smooth curve was estimated. The bars around each annual estimate indicate the 95% confidence intervals for each year’s estimated achievement gap. Although the achievement gap in any one year is estimated with some uncertainty, the general pattern evident in the trends is clear.

    Achievement gaps have been narrowing because Black and Hispanic students’ scores have been rising faster than those of White students.

    Achievement gaps have been closing because Black and Hispanic students’ scores have improved very rapidly over the last 30 years. Indeed, among Black and Hispanic students, the average 9-year-old student today scores almost as well on the NAEP math tests as the average 13-year-old did in 1978 the average 13-year old today scores almost as well as the average 17-year-old in 1978. In other words, black and Hispanic students today are roughly three years ahead of their parents’ generation in math skills. In reading, they are roughly two to three years ahead of their parents. White students’ scores have also improved, but not by as much. These trends are illustrated in the figure below.

    How to read this figure

    For each subject and age group, the figure displays three lines, each of which shows the trend in the average NAEP scores for white, black, or Hispanic students. The vertical axis shows NAEP scores. To help interpret these scores, the horizontal lines indicate the type of skills that students must demonstrate to score at various levels (more detailed information on the NAEP performance levels is available here). Each line’s label (on the right) indicates the overall change in average scores for that group since the first NAEP test shown (in the 1970s).

    Achievement gaps in some states are larger than in others.

    The white-black and white-Hispanic achievement gaps vary considerably among states. This is evident in the figures below, which show state-level achievement gaps for the years 1990-2013. These gaps are estimated from a version of the NAEP tests (called Main NAEP") that has been given to samples of students in each state every two years since 2003 and in some states from as early as 1990.

    In some states, particularly those in the upper Midwest, like Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota, the white-black achievement gap has generally been larger than a standard deviation over the last decade, regardless of grade or subject. Some other states, like Connecticut and Nebraska, also have white-black gaps this large, as does the District of Columbia, where the gap is well over 1.5 standard deviations. In states with small black populations, like West Virginia, Hawaii, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Vermont, and New Hampshire, for example, the gaps are consistently smaller, typically only half as large as in the states with the largest gaps.

    The same is true of the white-Hispanic achievement gaps. In some states, most notably the New England states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, but also in California, Colorado, Minnesota, and in the District of Columbia, the white-Hispanic gap is quite large, on the order of 0.90 to 1.00 standard deviations (or 1.5 standard deviations in the District of Columbia). In West Virginia and Vermont, however, the gaps only 0.30 or smaller, only one-third the size as in the states with the largest gaps.

    In some cases, the gaps are large because white students in these states score particularly high on the NAEP tests in other cases, the gaps are large because black or Hispanic students score poorly. For example, the large white-Hispanic gap in California is largely due to the low average scores of California Hispanic students (who have among the lowest average scores in the country in math or reading), not the high performance of white students (who perform at roughly the average among white students nationally). Conversely, the large white-black gap in Minnesota is not due to black Minnesota students’ particularly low scores (they are near or slightly below the national average), but is due to the fact that white students in Minnesota have very high scores.

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    Watch the video: Equal education opportunities for all (January 2022).