Forty-eight years ago (Monday), President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

The progress we’ve made toward fulfilling the promise of equal educational opportunities is marked by significant advances made by people of color across the nation. From the rising number of racial minorities with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees to the increased attention and services designed to meet the educational needs of English learners, we have much to be proud of.

But serious work remains to ensure equal opportunity for all students. A significant achievement gap persists between people of color and other groups. The high school graduation and bachelor’s degree rates for black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native students and other racial and ethnic minorities are still far lower than those for whites. Too many English learners still lack the instruction and services they need to be successful. As we are learning from the Civil Rights Data Collection, students of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds are receiving harsher discipline than other students. And there are too many racially-isolated schools with unequal access to critical opportunities and programs. These trends are particularly troubling in an increasingly global economy.

So while (July 2) is an occasion to celebrate the progress this nation has made under Title VI, continuing that progress will require a sustained commitment to an equal education for all students.

Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education on the anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act