Equity & Diversity

Ed. Dept. Requires Changes in Race, Ethnicity Reporting

By Scott J. Cech — October 23, 2007 2 min read

The U.S. Department of Education has pushed back implementation of controversial new requirements for classifying students by race and ethnicity, but is holding firm in the face of objections to changes requiring that institutions report some students as being members of more than one race.

Under final guidance issued by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and published in the Federal Register Oct. 19, schools must update as needed their method of student-data reporting to the Education Department no later than the 2010-11 school year—one year later than was announced when the guidelines were proposed last year.

The revised system conforms to guidelines established in 1997 by the White House Office of Management and Budget and reflected in the 2000 U.S. Census. That census was the first to allow respondents to identify themselves multiracially.

Under the new guidance, schools are to collect data on students’ racial and ethnic identities using a two-question format. First, families are to be asked if the students are “Hispanic/Latino.” Then they are to be given the option to choose one or more of the following five categories: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, black or African-American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, or white.

To prevent unnecessary double-counting, the parameters of the data that schools report to the department will be different: In addition to the above six categories, educational institutions may select an additional option, “two or more races,” to reflect a non-Hispanic student who checks more than one category under question two.

Initial Proposal Modified

The department also clarified the proposed guidance it unveiled in August 2006 to specify that elementary and secondary school students’ identification should be made primarily by the students’ parents or guardians, rather than by the students themselves. If the families decline to classify the students, school officials are expected to make a determination. The original proposal allowed schools to use a single-question format that included “Hispanic” among the racial options. However, the final guidance eliminates that exception to the two-question format.

The department received more than 150 comments on the proposed changes, including suggestions that the two-question format should be optional and complaints that more racial categories and sub-categories, such as Middle Eastern, Indian/Pakistani, and others, should be added. But the department chose not to endorse those comments in the final guidance.

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