Enforce Educational Equity

Education is the great equalizer, and as society we must continually work toward improving equity for all students. Even though we continue to make significant strides we have a long way to go. The new muscle being exerted by the Department of Education with enforcement of equity issues is welcome, but will increase the headaches of already resource-depleted schools and their administrations.

On Monday, March 8, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma with students and civil rights activists commemorating the 45th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” On March 7, 1965, 600 civil rights marchers headed from Selma to Montgomery only made it to this bridge when state and local law enforcement officers attacked them with tear gas and billy clubs.

In Sandra Bullock’s acceptance speech for Best Actress on Sunday night she thanked her mother, Helga Bullock, for teaching her “that there’s no race, no religion, no class system, no color, nothing, no sexual orientation that makes us better than anyone else.” Not only was I taught similarly, my parents implored me to use whatever skills I had for teaching fairness and justice. My four years at Bellarmine taught me to be a “man for others.”

That is why I ran for school board and worked for 20 years as a principal. Our system of public education, unintentionally in most cases, perpetuates a system that works more effectively for whites than Latinos and African-Americans.

In Selma Duncan said: “The struggle for equal opportunity in our nation’s schools and universities is not at an end…We will work with schools and enforce laws to ensure that all children, no matter what their race, gender, disability or native origin, have a fair chance at a good future.”

According to his prepared remarks, Duncan will admonish the past work of the Office of Civil Rights for not being vigilant enough in combating gender and racial discrimination in schools. He is setting markers down, and, under the direction of Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlyn Ali, the Office of Civil Rights will step up enforcement of laws for schools and districts.

School leaders at site and district levels must look at their own data carefully and review their equity and fairness issues. I am certain many would be surprised by their findings. I suggest local school officials look at data by race and gender relative to grading, honor roll, discipline, suspensions, advanced placement, honors, gifted and talented, student government, and attendance.

According to the Office of Civil Rights, white students are six times as likely to be prepared and qualified to enroll in advanced placement biology courses as black students. In addition, white students are twice as likely to have taken advanced placement calculus classes as black or Latino high school graduates.

I wish that today in every American History and U.S. Government class in 8th grade and in high school “Bloody Sunday” was a case study discussed. I am nearly certain that did not happen. Federal Court Judge Frank M. Johnson granted the protection under the U.S. Constitution of the 3rd march on March 21, 1965 by stating, “the law is clear that the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups…and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways.”

About five months after the march, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We will never reach our nation’s true ideals as the shining light for justice until we achieve equity for all. Schools are where it must be nourished.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. In spite of the “starve the beast” strategy of the right of cutting taxes for everything except war, then blaming the public infrastructure for not working well enough, public education has persevered and remains one of the few bedrock bastions of commitment to the public good and to equality of opportunity. 

    The protests against privatization of public education on March 4th were impressive and were a sign that there is a movement to preserve this vital public resource and bring costs down for students and their families for higher education. The values of the civil rights movement are alive in this country and the slogans of some students for “Education, Not Incarceration” and “Schools, Not Jails” show the connection between cuts to education and the increase in incarceration among all groups, but especially Black and Latino men and women. The failure of the movement for educational equity to preserve public education and restore funding would result in the continuing growth of the prison population and prison construction. Those students are stating loud and clear that they will not allow themselves to be treated as “surplus population” that the job market cannot absorb, and which must then be flushed down the toilet of prison. May this movement be as irrepressible as the Civil Rights movement.

  2. I thought I’d take the opportunity to brag about my nephew who was just selected by Teach For America (http://www.teachforamerica.org) for a K-5 teaching position in of all places, Las Vegas.  At 22, he has decided to dedicate two years of his life helping young kids achieve their educational potential.

    I’m a proud uncle!  smile

  3. > Education is the great equalizer, and as society we must continually work toward improving equity for all students.

    A diabolically cynical statement.

    Presuming that our resident educrat really means to say that “[universal public] educations is the great equalizer”, then I will point out that it is true that both:

    1.) GOOD universal education is an equalizer, and also

    2.) BAD universal education is an equalizer.

    The question is, what kind of education is the universal public education system providing?

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