Anti-Bias Activity Seen Growing at State Level
State activity to combat discrimination in education has expanded dramatically as the federal government's role has narrowed, says a new book by Cynthia G. Brown, who was the first assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department.
"Despite the dramatic lack of effectiveness in the current federal education civil-rights program and the absence of national leadership in promoting education equity, there are clear indications of widespread state-level action to address inequities," writes Ms. Brown, who headed the department's office for civil rights in the Carter Administration.
Now director of the Council of Chief State School Officers' resource center on educational equity, Ms. Brown contends that federal civil-rights laws enacted in the 1960's and 1970's sharply reduced discrimination against minority and handicapped children and prompted states to pass their own anti-bias laws.
Since then, she reports, many states have stepped up civil-rights enforcement and adopted "more far-reaching" equity goals than the federal government.
The book describes activities in Illinois, California, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
While the federal government initially played a vital role in civil-rights enforcement, the author argues, current policies may bypass many discrimination victims and fail to address subtle educational inequities.
Since the O.C.R. focuses on responding to individual complaints, she suggests, its efforts are directed primarily at middle-income victims of bias who have sufficient education to file a complaint and "enough security" to risk pressure or retaliation.
She says the largest share of complaints handled by the O.C.R. concern alleged discrimination on the basis of disability.
The office's enforcement strategy also overlooks less obvious and little-studied disparities in the distribution of teachers, resources, and services, within and across school districts, she asserts.
And she charges the Reagan Administration with "doublespeak" for de-emphasizing civil-rights enforcement activities while cutting back on the training and technical-assistance funding used to promote voluntary state compliance.
Addressing educational inequities effectively will require greater recognition of states' strengths in civil-rights enforcement and better coordination of federal and state efforts, according to Ms. Brown.
The federal government could, for example, examine broader equity issues if it asked states to assume more responsibility for handling individual complaints, she writes.
Copies of Twenty Years On: New Federal and State Roles To Achieve Equity in Education can be obtained for $14.95, plus $2 for postage and handling, from the National Center for Policy Alternatives, 2000 Florida Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009.