- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday that 60 years after segregation was outlawed in public schools, civil rights still remains a critical issue in education.

Duncan referenced the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision during a speech to a group of education writers at Vanderbilt University, one of three stops he made in Nashville. Earlier, he attended a town hall discussion at a local charter school, and wrapped up his visit with a round table discussion with education officials and teachers.

During his speech, Duncan noted the achievement gaps between affluent and poor students, and what he called so-called opportunity gaps in that “all families” don’t have access to high-quality, early-learning initiatives.

“While Brown struck down de jure segregation as unconstitutional, de facto school segregation has worsened in many respects in the last two decades,” he said. “When children aren’t getting the full benefit of educational technology because of their income or zip code, it’s an injustice.”

Duncan urged education writers to use civil rights data recently released by the Education Department when reporting stories on educational equity. For instance, he said the data released in March showed disparity in the access to science, technology, engineering and math courses, as well as advance placement classes.

Black and Hispanic students account for close to 40 percent of high school students, but constitute just a quarter of students taking AP courses and exams, and only 20 percent of enrollment in calculus classes, according to the results.

“The bottom line is that students of color, students with disabilities, and English learners don’t get the same opportunity as their white and Asian-American peers to take the math and science courses that figure importantly in preparing for careers and college,” Duncan said.

He also said states need to continue education reforms, like implementation of Common Core education standards, which are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and the workforce.

He once again lauded Tennessee as a state that’s been courageous in its reforms, despite pushback.

Tennessee and Delaware were the first two states to win the $500 million Race to the Top competition in 2010. Last year, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, showed Tennessee students leading the nation in academic improvement.

However, the state has been heavily criticized for some of its reforms, such as tying student performance on standardized test scores to teacher licensing.

And during the last legislative session, lawmakers voted to delay the testing component associated with Common Core for one year. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam reluctantly signed the measure into law last week.

Duncan told reporters after his town hall meeting earlier Tuesday that the pushback is not surprising.

“Anytime you challenge the status quo, there’s going to be pushback,” he said.

Henry Bradford, a math teacher at Brick Church College Prep where the town hall meeting was held, said students need reforms like Common Core to be globally competitive.

“We’re in a global society, and they’re going to be increasingly demanded to be able to communicate and to work with others,” he said. “They need to learn skills … that’s going to give them the chance to go compete for those jobs that other countries and other places may be getting.”

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