Since 1968 the Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report (known as the E&S survey) has been used to gather information about possible disparities in access to learning opportunities and violations of students’ civil rights. Thirty-five years after the initiation of the E&S survey, large disparities remain both in educational outcomes and in access to learning opportunities and resources. These disparities may reflect violations of students’ civil rights, the failure of education policies and practices to provide students from all backgrounds with a similar educational experience, or both. They may also reflect the failure of schools to fully compensate for disparities already present as children first enter school that may be due in part to past discriminatory practices and current differences in parents’ education, income, and family structure.
The Committee on Improving Measures of Access to Equal Educational Opportunity concludes that the E&S survey continues to play an essential role in documenting these disparities and in providing information that is useful both in guiding efforts to protect students’ civil rights and for informing educational policy and practice. There is no other source for much of the information on the E&S survey. The committee also concludes that the survey’s usefulness and access to the survey data could be improved.
Initially, the E&S survey exclusively addressed questions related to the racial composition of schools. For many years, the survey was the only source of information about school segregation in the United States. Under the authority of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of
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Executive Summary Since 1968 the Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report (known as the E&S survey) has been used to gather information about possible disparities in access to learning opportunities and violations of students’ civil rights. Thirty-five years after the initiation of the E&S survey, large disparities remain both in educational outcomes and in access to learning opportunities and resources. These disparities may reflect violations of students’ civil rights, the failure of education policies and practices to provide students from all backgrounds with a similar educational experience, or both. They may also reflect the failure of schools to fully compensate for disparities already present as children first enter school that may be due in part to past discriminatory practices and current differences in parents’ education, income, and family structure. The Committee on Improving Measures of Access to Equal Educational Opportunity concludes that the E&S survey continues to play an essential role in documenting these disparities and in providing information that is useful both in guiding efforts to protect students’ civil rights and for informing educational policy and practice. There is no other source for much of the information on the E&S survey. The committee also concludes that the survey’s usefulness and access to the survey data could be improved. BACKGROUND Initially, the E&S survey exclusively addressed questions related to the racial composition of schools. For many years, the survey was the only source of information about school segregation in the United States. Under the authority of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of
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1964, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education used this information to secure the compliance of local education agencies with school desegregation orders. Over the years, items were added to the E&S survey concerning other possible violations of students’ civil rights under Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, color, national origin, and language. Additional questions also have been added to the survey concerning two other laws for which OCR has enforcement responsibility and that were closely modeled after Title VI: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in programs that receive federal financial assistance, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. Violation of any of these laws can result in the withholding of federal financial assistance, although this penalty rarely has been imposed. Because the rationale for administering the E&S survey has been to provide information related to the enforcement of these three laws, much more emphasis historically has been placed on the collection of data from schools and districts regarding their compliance with these laws than on routine analyses and dissemination of findings. Information from the E&S survey usually represents a first but important step in the process of determining whether minority students, students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency, and females are affected by policies and practices that limit access to learning opportunities or resources. By itself, the E&S survey can only be used to identify statistical relationships and disparities in learning opportunities; it cannot be used to address questions of causality. However, statistical associations among certain variables can suggest that there may be unintended negative consequences of educational policies and practices or possible violations of law. OCR reports that the survey has long been underutilized. Although some OCR enforcement staff reportedly use the data, most do not. No training is provided to OCR staff regarding technical issues in accessing and analyzing E&S survey data or potential uses of the data in enforcement. The data sometimes are used in conjunction with citizen complaints and other information to decide whether potential problems in specific schools and school districts may require further investigation. Except for a brief period during the 1970s, data from the survey have never been routinely published or otherwise made widely available to the public. OCR has made the data available to education advocates, researchers, and
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other interested parties on request. However, sometimes this has required use of the Freedom of Information Act by those seeking the information. In the summer of 2002, OCR took a major step to make the E&S survey data much more available to the public by placing them on the Internet. The committee commends OCR for this step. FINDINGS For many issues, the E&S survey is the sole source of national data that are disaggregated by racial, ethnic, and language minority status, gender, and by students’ disability status. The survey is the sole source of information at the school and classroom level for most of the policies and practices it covers. No other source of information provides a comprehensive national picture of disparities in disciplinary practices in schools, gender disparities in interscholastic athletics, classroomlevel student placements in early and middle grades, the effects of high-stakes testing, and services for students with disabilities and limited proficiency with English. Although various national surveys touch on some of the issues dealt with in the E&S survey, no other data source provides disaggregated information that is updated regularly and is traceable to individual classrooms, schools, and districts. With some modifications and closer coordination with other Department of Education databases to accommodate more sophisticated research designs, E&S survey data could play a more prominent role than they have in the past in informing contemporary policy and research questions—especially the identification of possible unintended inequitable outcomes of various educational policies and practices. The Department of Education has announced its intention to consolidate the collection and maintenance of administrative data used for program management and policy decisions through the proposed PerformanceBased Data Management Indicators (PBDMI) system. The implementation of the PDBMI system may affect the way in which data that currently are gathered through the E&S survey are collected in future years. The committee advocates that the department continue collecting data on access to learning opportunities that will help ensure that students with special needs are well served. Data currently obtained from the E&S survey should continue to play an important role in protecting the rights of students from all backgrounds. The fact that the survey provides up-to-date district, school, and classroom-level data distinguishes it as a uniquely important information re
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source. If the E&S survey were to be incorporated into another data collection instrument, it is essential that the legislatively based requirements mandating the timely provision of specific data at the classroom and school levels be retained. The E&S survey historically has focused on the enforcement of civil rights issues and complaints. However, it has considerable potential to be used as a complement to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by providing information on educational policies and practices that affect students’ access to and the consequences of essential learning opportunities. To do this, the survey should be strengthened in several ways. First, the survey should be integrally linked to other Department of Education data collection efforts, including special education data surveys and the department’s proposed PBDMI system. The survey’s unique contribution of providing school district, school, and classroom data should be maintained, and its capability to measure trends over time should be expanded. Second, revising questions and eliminating unnecessary items could improve the E&S survey itself. Field testing, respondent validity studies, and findings from ongoing research on learning opportunities should guide the revisions of the survey. Some examples of items that need revision are provided in the report, e.g., ability grouping and teacher qualification indicators. Though the survey data have been useful to a variety of users, the datafiles have been difficult to access and use. OCR has placed some of the information on its website, facilitating simple queries of the data. Problems remain for researchers and others who try to do more detailed studies. The E&S survey data should be formatted in ways that make them easier for researchers to use. Improving the ability to connect the data to existing datasets could help with this issue. Also, multiple sources of training and support to OCR staff and other users of the survey data should be provided, and efforts to disseminate survey findings expanded. CONCLUSIONS Disparities in educational outcomes and in learning opportunity among different types of students continue to be an important social problem. In that context, the committee has three principal conclusions about the E&S survey: The E&S survey, or an equivalent research instrument, continues to be needed to gather disaggregated data related to the equality of access to learning opportuni
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ties and resources that are traceable to individual classrooms, schools, and districts. The survey, although useful for civil rights enforcement, informing educational policy, and the conduct of research, is greatly underused. The survey can be made more useful by improvements to the content, the manner in which the survey is administered, and access to the valuable data it provides. RECOMMENDATIONS The committee offers recommendations in four categories: survey administration, improving data quality, increasing access to the data, and disseminating survey findings. We end with an overall conclusion about the role of the E&S survey. Survey Administration The mandated and certified collection of data related to possible violations of students’ educational civil rights should be sustained. The survey should be supported by line-item funding in the department’s budget to ensure its ongoing support at a level that is consistent with its continued quality. Because of the survey’s importance, the department should consider undertaking a thorough study of the survey aimed at ensuring that it deals appropriately and in sufficient depth with the problems of discovering possible restrictions on students’ learning opportunities and, if possible, reducing the reporting burden on schools and school systems. The E&S survey content and protocols should be coordinated with those of other department surveys to ensure consistency of definitions and the complementarity of the data and to eliminate redundant questions. The various stakeholders in the E&S survey—such as OCR enforcement staff, student advocates, state and local educators, and researchers—should discuss and explore the advantages and disadvantages of less frequent but more comprehensive surveys. With respect to a comprehensive survey, all schools should be surveyed, at a minimum, every 10 years, as was done in 2000.
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Improving Data Quality Survey items should be revised to provide more useful and complete information on five topics: the qualifications and experience of teachers; the assignment of students to different types of classrooms and educational settings; the consequences for students of high-stakes testing; high school completion; and interscholastic athletics. OCR should ensure that respondents understand how to complete the survey accurately and thoroughly. OCR should carefully scrutinize the data that are collected for thoroughness and reliability. Increasing Access to the Data There are several steps that OCR should take to increase access to the E&S survey data: train staff to make more effective use of the survey data; continue to improve the software provided for public access to E&S survey data over the Internet; sponsor or support programs to train advocates, researchers, and educators to use the data for various purposes; make well-edited data available to researchers and others in a usable format and provide a data manual and technical assistance; consider developing a small grants program to encourage research on the topic of access to learning opportunities using E&S survey data; and archive and preserve data from all surveys in a common format and make them accessible to researchers and other interested parties on disk or over the Internet, both for historical purposes and to enable researchers to track longitudinal trends. Disseminating Survey Findings Three steps should be taken by OCR to improve dissemination of E&S survey data: conduct or sponsor the conduct of basic tabulations of the data; include findings from analyses of the data in OCR’s regular reports to Congress; and publicize the basic findings from the survey in widely disseminated government publications.