• by Bradley Scott, M.A.  • IDRA Newsletter • February 1999

Dr. Bradley ScottThe IDRA Desegregation Assistance Center – South Central Collaborative for Equity has received inquiries as to why the name is changing to the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. The explanation is simple. The role of the desegregation assistance centers (DACs) is expanding to embrace a broader set of issues than just school desegregation. Let me review a bit of history as a way of explaining what I mean.

The work of the desegregation assistance centers has broadened over the years of their existence. Historically, the centers were created and funded to assist local education agencies to address matters of desegregation by assisting them in preparing, adopting and implementing plans for the desegregation of public schools.

Such technical assistance may, among other activities, include making available to such agencies information regarding effective methods of coping with special problems occasioned by desegregation and making available to such agencies personnel of the Office of Education or other persons specially equipped to advise and assist them in coping with such problems (Civil Rights Act, 1964).

Since the early 1960s when the Civil Rights Act was created, desegregation assistance centers have evolved from providing technical assistance in creating, adopting and implementing desegregation plans that address matters of access to school settings that are segregated by race (and eventually by national origin and sex). Historically, that meant that the DACs assisted local education agencies to eradicate Black and White schools in a given school system. Over time, the role expanded to focus on the programs and curricula within those schools. The premise here was simply that it made no sense to put racially different learners in a single school and continue to instruct them with a segregated curriculum or to deny certain students access to certain programs because of their race. Equal access to schools and programs within those schools became the expanded scope of the work of the DACs in their technical assistance.

Important legislative actions, such as the Educational Amendments of 1972, and court actions, such as the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lau vs. Nichols, solidified the understanding that the desegregation of public schools and access should be made available to all students regardless of their race, sex or national origin (language characteristics). In fact, so powerful was the impact of Lau and the educational amendments that it set into motion the idea that students must not only be afforded equal access to schools and school programs, but also be treated equally as well.

The early 1970s reshaped the work of the DACs to include technical assistance focused on equal access and equal treatment of students.

The work of the DACs further expanded in the early 1980s to notions of equity. In addition to understanding that equal educational opportunity must be a reality for schools to give students non-discriminatory access to schools and programs, the concept of educational equity acknowledged that the differentiated characteristics of students must be taken into account in terms of how students access curriculum, programs, supports and other opportunities in educational settings. The shift in technical assistance expanded beyond desegregation to the more complex concept of integration, which embraced not just breadth of access or coverage but also depth of inclusion into schools, programs and opportunities. This involved addressing issues of how different kinds of learners were involved in all kinds of curricular offerings at all levels (i.e., from regular English to advanced placement English, or regular curricular offerings to inclusion in gifted and talented programs) and, if in their being involved, were their linguistic, cultural and social characteristics taken into account in terms of how instruction and involvement occurred.

What then is the next step of desegregation technical assistance? It is to assist educators and communities to focus seriously on access, treatment and outcomes. The operative issue here is comparability of outcomes. The questions we faced were:

  • Do different learners in desegregated settings have equal opportunity to access schools and all of their programs regard less of their race, sex, or national origin?
  • Do all students have an equitable opportunity to learn where their racial, gender, linguistic, and social and cultural differences are factored into how they are presented with opportunities to learn and are they treated in ways that account for those differences?
  • As a result of their inclusion in all aspects of the school’s programs and offerings and of equitable treatment therein, are comparable academic and other outcomes achieved?

The desegregation assistance centers are now being called equity assistance centers which suggests an evolving role that is important and appropriate in light of the school reform efforts that have captured the attention of the nation in the 1990s. The educational goals were embraced by the Improving America’s Schools Act that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The goals have set a national tone calling for comparable outcomes between and among diverse learners and that all learners must be challenged and assisted to achieve high standards of academic excellence regardless of their race, sex, national origin, linguistic differences, cultural and social characteristics, economic circumstances, and disability. This must happen in all communities, in all kinds of traditional and non-traditional schools (including magnet and charter schools), in desegregated settings under federal court or other external mandate to desegregate, and in districts that no longer are under such mandates but are voluntarily desegregating, as well as those districts for which desegregation is not an issue at all.

The equity assistance centers (EACs) are now in a position to assist all kinds of public schools wherever they are in communities and however these public schools may be configured to create excellent opportunities for all learners to achieve high standards of academic excellence regardless of their race, sex or national origin. The EACs will collaborate with other technical assistance providers, including comprehensive centers, state education agencies and other federal and state entities, in meeting this challenge. This should help to avoid duplication of services and increase the potential impact of technical assistance to public schools as they continue to transform to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The EACs’ unique role in transforming public education will be the technical assistance they provide to achieve the Goals of Educational Equity that involve:

  • equal and nondiscriminatory access to schools and their programs;
  • equitable treatment within those schools and programs offered in those schools;
  • equitable opportunities to learn in those schools and programs, including the comparability of resources (fiscal, physical, personnel, personnel experience, time, intensity, coverage and depth); and
  • comparability of high achievement outcomes for all learners regardless of race, sex, national origin or other characteristics of diversity.

The EACs’ mission is to help everyone in schools and communities see that re-creating schools to work for all learners to achieve high standards means not only embracing equity and excellence, but also embracing equity-based excellence. Thus instructional models and programs must be flexible and adaptive enough to accommodate all kinds of learners, in all kinds of learner settings, and produce comparably high outcomes. The invitational priorities that the Secretary of Education has stated as a special interest also help clarify this issue.

The EACs’ special charge, then, is to help others to see and implement – in the transforming context of public education – what we have been saying since the early 1970s. The continuum that was talked about before now has been extended not only to talk about comparable outcomes, but comparably high outcomes, for all learners, no matter where they are in public schools, no matter how those public schools are configured or how they operate. Public schools can do what they choose to educate their students within certain limits and parameters, but they are accountable for educating all learners to high academic standards and outcomes regardless of differing characteristics of those learners.

Bradley Scott, M.A., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. He directs the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 1999 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.]