• by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2010 • Dr. Bradley Scott

Directors of the nation’s 10 equity assistance centers recently had an opportunity to come together to discuss several issues that impact the civil rights of learners in public schools. It seems very apparent to us that there is still a potential for some students – particularly those who are minority, poor or linguistically different – to get lost in the midst of the continuing clamor for educational reform driven by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other activities across the country. While I am not attempting to be a single voice for the equity assistance centers network (of which the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity is a part), I can report that we believe there are challenges attached to each of the ARRA principles that we must stay on top of to ensure that the civil rights of learners are protected and that they benefit from the reforms being sought.

ARRA has four principles that drive educational reform:

  • Making progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities;
  • Establishing pre-kindergarten to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement;
  • Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students, particularly students who are most in need; and
  • Providing intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools. (U.S. Department of Education, 2009)

Each one of these principles is worth intense discussion and examination. The purpose of this article is to focus on three of the civil rights challenges within the principle regarding teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of qualified teachers.

Challenge 1: Securing and preparing qualified teachers so that, no matter where diverse students attend schools, they benefit from effective teaching

Around the nation, the equity assistance centers continue to see many instances where under-qualified and poorly qualified teachers are assigned to schools in communities where there is a high concentration of poor, minority and linguistically different students. The increasing occurrence of de facto segregated communities and schools appears to facilitate this placement of the least qualified teachers with students who have the highest requirement for excellent teachers.

The question to be answered is: What structural regularities and deficiencies in teacher assignment practices of school districts continue to allow a lack of teacher competency to be matched inversely with students’ requirement for excellent teachers and teaching?

Challenge 2: Overcoming deficit models of professional development that devalue, label and pigeon-hole learners based upon their difference

Developing highly qualified teachers has been on the educational landscape for many years. In still too many instances, however, school districts embrace professional development models that are culturally and linguistically non-responsive to the learners to whom these models are applied. This practice means many teachers are ill equipped to provide powerful, responsive instruction that supports students to excellence. Villarreal (2010) suggests that we have learned enough to know that 21st Century professional development of teachers must embrace cultural relevance, competence and knowledge vis a vis all diverse students to enable them to achieve excellent academic outcomes.

The question to be answered is: Why do models that reflect “one size fits all” continue to be the preferred approach to teacher professional development given the increasing range of diversity in the student population of public schools?

Challenge 3: Ensuring the protection of the rights of all learners to receive fair treatment and benefit from effective teachers who provide excellent, high-quality instruction no matter where learners attend public schools

The equity assistance centers report increasing segregation across race and national origin in schools and classrooms throughout the nation. Federal court rulings that require a narrowly tailored use of race to desegregate schools, a lack of compliance reviews being conducted by the Office for Civil Rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and local communities and schools turning their focus away from the pro-active protection of civil rights for all students have called into question whether students are receiving real access to quality teaching.

IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework (Montecel, 2005) presents a systemic way in which communities and education stakeholders can work to guarantee graduation for all that leads to college access and success. Teaching quality is one of the critical indicators the framework examines. IDRA’s Goals of Educational Equity and School Reform (Scott, 2000) provides these same stakeholders a set of more than 75 questions to determine how the system is operating to ensure quality, non-discriminatory access to an equitable educational experience for all students regardless of their race, gender or national origin.

Communities and stakeholders must embrace this end as an operational regularity and obligation to all students and families. They must not see this end as something they are being compelled to do, but as an obligation they must provide to be fair to all students.

The question to be answered is: What technical assistance supports do we need in order to provide all students the benefit of a quality education as a regularity, even in the absence of external requirements, that leads to graduation and school success for college and for life?

To paraphrase the U.S. Secretary of Education, education really is the civil rights issue of the 21st Century. This time, however, the primary burden for change cannot be on the backs of diverse learners; it must be the educators who create and sustain the educational strategies and policies they establish for all diverse students.

The equity assistance centers will continue to examine education reform and provide technical assistance and training through a lens of equity. There are also many other civil rights challenges to which the equity assistance centers will continue to attend as education reforms move forward. It is the only way to assure the protection of the civil rights of students to benefit from a quality public educational experience that leads to graduation and success for college and for life.


Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework – Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).

Scott, B. “We Should Not Kid Ourselves: Excellence Requires Equity,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).

U.S. Department of Education. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Saving and Creating Jobs and Reforming Education, web page (March 7, 2009). http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/recovery/implementation.html

Villarreal, A. “Suggestions for Conducting Effective Teaching Demonstrations in Classrooms with Diverse Learners,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2010).

Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is an IDRA senior education associate and director of the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]