Higher Education News
No student – whether Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, or of any other religious background – should experience barriers to learning and success in school because of who the student is or what the student believes.
That’s why last month, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights participated in a community forum in Palo Alto, California, on religious discrimination in schools and universities. This roundtable built on an event in Newark, New Jersey, in March, where the Department of Education joined the Justice Department in announcing the launch of Combating Religious Discrimination Today, a new interagency community engagement initiative designed to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes.
In Palo Alto, we heard about the prevalence of bullying and harassment that students from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds experience at school. Community leaders expressed support for a wide range of trainings – social-emotional learning, cultural competency, implicit bias, restorative justice, basics of world religions – to improve school and campus climates.
We view last month’s roundtable as an important continuation of a dialogue. The discussion echoed themes from the joint letter by Secretary John King and former Secretary Arne Duncan that promoted efforts to create safe and supportive school environments in which all students are equally able to participate in a robust exchange of ideas.
We at OCR are eager to continue our work in partnership with our federal colleagues to address unlawful bias and discrimination in our nation’s schools, and to continue our strong enforcement of federal civil rights laws to ensure that all students can learn in safe school environments.
Last year, OCR received more than 10,000 complaints, 21 percent of which involved race or national origin discrimination and more than 450 of which involved racial or national origin harassment, including some relating to national origin discrimination involving religion. We evaluated every complaint we received for possible civil rights violations.
One example involved a Jewish student in California. The complaint alleged that the student was bullied repeatedly over several years based on his shared ancestry and/or ethnic background as a Jewish person, as well as being subjected to disability-based harassment. In addition to verbal taunts, the complaint alleged that the student was physically assaulted by his peers. The school was notified of several incidents of harassment, and although the school responded, the harassing conduct continued.
In the resolution agreement, the district agreed to conduct a school climate assessment and create a plan to address the issues so that incidents of race- and disability-based harassment, specifically including anti-Semitic harassment, would be investigated and redressed; provide expert training to school personnel on how to investigate and respond to allegations of discriminatory harassment; and provide age-appropriate training to students to raise awareness of what constitutes harassment based on race or disability, including anti-Semitic harassment, among other remedies.
Enforcement is just one of OCR’s tools to protect students. We’ve also issued policy guidance that explains how Title VI addresses discrimination of religious individuals based on actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. And to better monitor the prevalence of religion-based bullying or harassment in schools, as part of the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection, all school districts will report on incidents of bullying or harassment on the basis of actual or perceived religion.
Catherine E. Lhamon is Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
The Obama Administration is committed to creating a fairer, more effective criminal justice system. We want to lessen the impact of mass incarceration on our communities and help the men and women who rejoin society from our jails and prisons to build successful, crime-free lives.
Today, we’re announcing the selection of 67 postsecondary institutions to participate in the Second Chance Pell Program, which will evaluate the impact that Pell Grants have in helping incarcerated men and women pursue and attain a high-quality postsecondary education.
In total, nearly 12,000 students at more than a hundred federal and state correctional institutions will access approximately $30 million in Pell Grants, across 27 states in every region of the country.
Through both classroom and online instruction, eligible students in these programs can get associate and bachelor’s degrees, technical certificates in areas like welding, carpentry, and non-technical certificates in fields like business administration and marketing.
Right now, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with more than 2.2 million prisoners and as President Barack Obama has noted, for the money this country currently spends on prison, we could provide universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old in America, or double the salary of every high school teacher in the country.
According to a 2014 study funded by the Department of Justice and conducted by the RAND Corporation, incarcerated individuals who participated in high-quality correctional education at all levels were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who didn’t participate in any education programs.
Reducing recidivism will make our communities safer and save taxpayers’ money and the Second Chance Pell program is a step in the right direction, but it is not the entire solution. We need to rethink our policies that determine student access and success in higher education.
We all agree that crime must have consequences. But the men and women who have done their time and paid their debt deserve the opportunity to break with the past and forge new lives in their homes, workplaces and communities. And, helping incarcerated men and women to gain new knowledge, skills, and credentials increases their chance of living successful lives, saves public dollars, and makes our communities—and our country—safer and stronger.
Our belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind and reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, presents an opportunity to continue making progress towards educational equity and excellence for all. For the first time, the reauthorization of the nation’s defining elementary and secondary education law explicitly supports a preschool to college- and career-readiness vision for America’s students. It also creates the flexibility for states, districts, and educators to reclaim the promise of a quality, well-rounded education for every student while maintaining the protections that ensure our commitment to every child — particularly by identifying and reporting the academic progress of all of our students and by guaranteeing meaningful action is taken in our lowest performing schools and school with low performance among subgroups of students.
To realize this promise, states should engage meaningfully with a wide range of stakeholders to create a common vision of educational opportunity and accountability. This engagement can take many forms and still be successful. Regardless of the form, however, to be meaningful it must be wide-spread, inclusive, ongoing, and characterized by true collaboration. For the law to work we need all those who have a stake in our education system to have a seat at the table as states are making their plans.
While many states are still contemplating how to move forward, several have launched stakeholder engagement processes to start determining how to develop the best education systems for students in their states, and to explore the new flexibilities and opportunities within ESSA. Some have committees chaired by senior state officials working to develop plans for accountability systems, school interventions, and assessment systems, among other elements of the law. Others have solicited input more broadly and are taking a grass-roots approach to beginning their planning.
Although each state will ultimately pursue an engagement strategy that works for its local context, the work of others, and the guidance and tools that national education organizations have created for state and local government officials and stakeholders, may prove useful in devising those strategies. Here are a few examples of states and their unique approaches:
- There is grassroots engagement afoot in Pennsylvania, where Education Secretary Rivera has held a series of stakeholder sessions at the local level, creating working groups focusing on core issues of the law – e.g. accountability and assessment – to better allow citizens throughout the Commonwealth to engage on specific issues within the ESSA law. These working groups are comprised of a wide array of stakeholders including teachers, principals, community based organizations, education non-profits, businesses and higher education institutions.
- Strong executive leadership is the highlight of Alabama’s outreach strategy, where the Governor established a committee through an executive order to lead the development of the ESSA state plan. This ESSA Implementation Committee includes representatives from across the education community, including parents, educators, superintendents, school board members, school leaders, state Department of Education officials, and education policy advocates. In addition to the meetings of the committee itself, the chair and vice chair are holding subcommittee meetings on a variety of topics (including accountability, early learning, and standards and assessments), and plan to host public forums so local leaders and members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in on the development of the state plan. A full list of committee members, along with meeting dates, times, and locations, is available here. The Committee is also soliciting feedback and comments from the general public through an online webform.
- The Colorado Department of Education created an ESSA working group and in May led listening sessions in different regions of the state to gather input from stakeholders such as parents and teachers. The ESSA working group committees will utilize this information from the sessions to develop the state plan that will ultimately be approved by the Colorado State Board of Education.
As states continue to refine their plans it is important that citizens, civil rights groups, parents, educators and many more stakeholders become involved in the state and local level conversations on how to best implement ESSA both initially and in the months and years to come. Here are some highlights of the tools national organizations have created to help their members create a thoughtful and inclusive engagement plan:
- The Council of Chief State School Officers and more than 15 partnership organizations: ESSA Stakeholder Engagement Guide
- Learning First Alliance Principles on Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement: Stakeholder Engagement ESSA
- National School Boards Association: ESSA
- National Parent Teacher Association: Resources for Families on implementing ESSA
- ED Trust: ESSA: What’s in it? What does it mean for Equity?
- Coalition for Community Schools: Stakeholder Engagement
- Urban League: ESSA Toolkit
- National Association of Secondary School Principals: Learn the issues ESSA
- American Federation of Teachers: ESSA Facts
We look forward to supporting state and local leaders as they work to engage their constituents in developing high quality implementation plans that provide every student with a high quality world class education. For additional information, please read Secretary King’s Dear Colleague Letter to state and local leaders that highlights additional engagement materials developed by the U.S. Department of Education.
Lindsay O’Mara is Deputy Assistant Secretary for State and Local Engagement at the U.S. Department of Education.