Education Dep't Using Civil Rights Law to Get More Black Students Into AP Classes

By Susan Jones | September 11, 2013 | 10:54am EDT

(AP File Photo)

( - In a first-of-its-kind civil rights agreement, the Obama administration has struck a deal with the public school system in Opelika, Alabama to get more African-American students into Advanced Placement classes.

The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights launched its investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to find out if the Lee County School District was providing "equal opportunity and equal access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other higher-level learning opportunities" that prepare students for success in their college years and beyond.

The data demonstrated that, district-wide, African-American high school students were underrepresented in AP and higher level courses, including in all higher level mathematics courses, particularly in calculus and statistics courses.  

Investigators found that a disproportionately low number of African American students were enrolled in eighth-grade algebra, which prepares students for the district's highest-level math and science classes, including AP courses. The investigation also found that advanced math was offered to seventh-graders in the district's predominantly white middle schools, but not at the district's predominantly black middle school.

While the district's predominantly white high schools offered a large overall number of advanced courses in a wide variety of subjects, the predominantly black high school had "significantly fewer" advanced courses, and AP courses were offered only online.

"We look forward to working with the Lee County School District administrators to ensure that all students have equal access to a quality education, and are pleased that the district has taken positive steps to increase college-ready access through raising the enrollment of black students in AP and other higher level courses," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights.

Federal investigators said the school district voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement before OCR announced its findings.

Under the agreement, the district will:

-- Develop a district-wide plan for addressing the under-representation of African American students in AP and higher level courses;
-- Identify any barriers to African American students' participation in AP and higher level courses;
-- Permit students to participate in distance learning opportunities at schools providing more AP and higher-level options;
-- Establish dual-enrollment courses with the local community college for students at the predominantly African American high school and provide transportation for all students who elect to take dual-enrollment courses;
-- Encourage students at all of the district's elementary, middle, and high schools to aspire to attend college, and to participate in AP and higher level courses.

The district's comprehensive plan will be based on recommendations from an expert consultant, feedback from students, parents and staff, and a self-assessment.

OCR says its mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights law.

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