The federal Department of Education plans to intensify its civil rights enforcement efforts in schools around the country, including a deeper look at issues ranging from programs for immigrant students learning English to equal access to a college preparatory courses.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to outline the department's plans in a speech delivered today in Alabama to commemorate the 45th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," in which several hundred civil rights protesters were beaten by state troopers on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge during a voting rights march in 1965.
"For us, this is very much about working to meet the president's goal, that by 2020 we will regain our status in the world as the number one producer of college graduates," said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department.
The department is expecting to conduct 38 compliance reviews this year, she said.
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Though the investigations have been conducted before, the department's Office of Civil Rights is looking to do more complicated and broad reviews that will look not just at whether procedures are in place, but at the impact district practices have on students of one race or another, and if student needs are being met.
In his prepared remarks, Duncan highlights several jarring inequities: At the end of high school, white students are about six times more likely to be college-ready in biology than black students and more than four times as likely to be prepared for college algebra.
Other statistics he will highlight in Selma:
* A quarter of all students drop out before their graduation, and half of those come from 12 percent of the nation's high schools. Those roughly 2,000 schools produce a majority of the dropouts among black and Latino students.
* Students from low-income families who graduate from high school scoring in the top testing quartile are no more likely to attend college than the lowest-scoring students from wealthy families.