The Regional Equity Assistance Centers — Fifty years and Counting: Forging Civil-Rights-Based Technical Assistance to Serve All Students by Building Equity-Centered Capacity in Public Schools

By Dr. Bradley Scott, Director (Retired), South Central Collaborative for Equity, Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA)


The 10 equity assistance centers (EACs), funded through the United States Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, are the only technical assistance (TA) centers that find their origin in the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1964. There are many types of technical assistance centers, including comprehensive centers, technical assistance and dissemination centers, regional laboratories and parent technical assistance centers, but none of these are based in this landmark act. The EACs are the oldest TA centers in the nation and hold a unique position of focusing their work on civil rights considerations and implications in public education.

For over 50 years, the centers have evolved based upon the changes that have occurred in public education, including the social, political and cultural shifts that have become a part of the national landscape. In all these years, the EACs have continually focused on providing technical assistance to all educational stakeholders to ensure that students are not discriminated against in public schools on the basis of race, gender or national origin, nor by the programs and activities within those schools. Their work supports technical assistance to implement the requirements of Title VI of the CRA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, and Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Such discrimination is prohibited in any programs in public schools, kindergarten through the 12th grade, receiving federal dollars as a part of their operation. In addition to ensuring that all learners receive equal benefit from an equitable, effectual educational experience — regardless of the differences among those learners — the work of the EACs also helps states and local education agencies ensure non-discrimination under the law regarding inclusion, access, treatment and opportunity to learn.

This article will focus on:
1. Who are the EACs?
2. What do they do?
3. Why is their work important?
4. What difference do they make to equity-centered capacity building?

Who Are the Equity Assistance Centers?

The work of the desegregation assistance centers (DACs), the original name of the TA centers, has expanded throughout the years. Historically, the centers were created to assist local education agencies (LEAs) and states address desegregation-related issues by helping them prepare, adopt and implement plans for the desegregation of public schools. Districts and other entities operating K-12 schools (e.g., charter schools, magnet schools, juvenile justice centers) were included. Technical assistance included informing such agencies about effective methods for addressing specific problems occasioned by responses to desegregation (i.e., community relations, racial ethnic hostility, uneven or discriminatory board policy and administrative practice). Technical assistance also included providing support to cope with those challenges to the personnel in agencies (board members, administrators, certified and non-certified personnel, community members, parents and students). (Civil Rights Act, 1964.)

Since 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was enacted, the DACs have evolved in name and in purpose. Whereas the DACs provided technical assistance in creating, adopting and implementing desegregation plans that addressed access to school settings that were segregated by race, and eventually took into account national origin and sex, the EACs’ work now includes access to all aspects of public education, including curricular and extra-curricular activities. Accompanying a 1990s name change, equitable access to schools and programs within those schools has become the expanded scope of the work of the EACs and their technical assistance (Scott, 1999).

Important administrative and legislative actions solidified the understanding that the desegregation of public schools and access must be made available to all students regardless of their race, sex or national origin (including linguistic difference). The May 25th Memorandum of 1968, which clarified that national origin referred to language minority learners in addition to ethnicity, and the Educational Amendments of 1972, Title IX, and court actions, including the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lau vs. Nichols, are examples. The early 1970s reshaped the work of the DACs to include technical assistance focused on equal access under the law and equal treatment of all students. The work of the DACs further expanded in the early 1980s to encompass educational equity. Beyond insisting that equal educational opportunity must be fully in place for students in order to ensure their non-discriminatory access to schools and programs, the concept of educational equity acknowledged that the different characteristics of students must be taken into account regarding how students access curriculum, programs, supports and other opportunities in educational settings. The shift in technical assistance expanded beyond desegregation to the more complex concept of integration, which embraced the breadth of access and depth of inclusion into schools and programs and non-discriminatory, full access to all quality educational opportunities.

The goal is to create, for all learners, comparability in excellent opportunities and outcomes. This leads the centers to challenging and critical inquiries as they assist clients, including such investigations as:

  • Do different learners in desegregated and de facto re-segregated settings have equal opportunity to access schools and all of their high-quality programs, regardless of their race, sex, language or national origin?
  • Do all students have an equitable opportunity to learn where their racial, gender, linguistic, social, cultural, economic and ability differences are factored into how they are presented with opportunities to learn, and are they treated in equitable ways that account for those differences?
  • Do they have highly effective teachers and principals who ensure the fair and equitable treatment of all learners?
  • As a result of their inclusion in all aspects of the school’s programs and offerings, and of equitable treatment therein, are comparable academic and other outcomes achieved?

What Do the EACs Do? Evolution of the EACs

Since the mid-1990s, the Desegregation Assistance Centers have been called Equity Assistance Centers, which, as noted, suggests an evolving role that is important and appropriate considering the nation’s rapt attention to school reform efforts over the past 25 years. A national voice demands comparable high student outcomes, both academic and in other areas (e.g., responsible citizenship, competent decision making and problem solving, community service, advocacy for social justice), for all diverse learners. This must happen in: 1) all communities; 2) all kinds of traditional and non-traditional schools; 3) desegregated settings under federal court or other external mandate to desegregate; 4) districts that are no longer under such mandates, but are voluntarily desegregating; and 5) those districts for which desegregation challenges are not an issue at all. EACs are now in a position to assist all kinds of public schools, wherever they are in communities and however these public schools may be configured, to create excellent opportunities for all learners to achieve high standards of success.

The EACs’ mission is to assist schools and communities to recreate schools that work for all learners to achieve high standards. This means embracing equity-based excellence. Thus, instructional models and programs must be flexible and adaptive enough to accommodate all kinds of learners, in all kinds of learner settings, and produce comparably high outcomes for all of them.

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The EACs’ mission is to assist schools and communities to recreate schools that work for all learners to achieve high standards. This means embracing equity-based excellence. Thus, instructional models and programs must be flexible and adaptive enough to accommodate all kinds of learners, in all kinds of learner settings, and produce comparably high outcomes for all of them. The EACs’ special charge, then, is to help others to see and implement — in the changing context of public education — what the EACs have asserted since the early 1980s. Public schools are accountable for educating all learners to high academic standards and outcomes, regardless of differing characteristics among those learners.

The Equity Assistance Centers have defined six generations of civil rights and educational equity approaches that have framed their work across the United States. These generations are presented below (Scott, 1990; 1995).

First Generation: 1954-1964Litigation, starting with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which shaped civil rights in public education in what the EACs referred to as “the modern era of civil rights.” The goal of this first generation was racial, physical desegregation. Major concerns included the eradication of dual school systems through the development of student assignment plans, which were to produce a racially balanced, unitary school system. Two other concerns involved the elimination of racial isolation in schools and the eradication of race bias and stereotypes in curricular materials.

Second Generation: 1964-1983Legislation, starting with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, redefined the civil rights landscape. This generation lasted for approximately 20 years and was also characterized by several pieces of legislation that prohibited discrimination against children and opened access for them to schools and programs within those schools, regardless of race, sex, national origin, religion, economic status or “handicapping” condition. Educational equality (not necessarily equity) for all children became the focus of this period. That is, all students would receive the same treatment and access regardless of differences. It became clear that while educational equality, including equal access and treatment, was a necessary condition, it was not sufficient to produce the desired outcomes of effectively desegregated schools.

Third Generation: 1983-1990State-Driven Reform Efforts, starting with reports such as A Nation at Risk (NCEE, 1983) and other reports that refocused the civil rights conversation on issues beyond access alone. In an article in the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) Newsletter (1990), “In Pursuit of Equity: An Idea Whose Time Has Come,” the three generations of desegregation were discussed by the 10 regional desegregation assistance centers in their publication, Re-segregation of Public Schools: The Third Generation (1989). That discussion served as the basis for why many districts began monitoring for equity, not just equality.

The new goal in this phase was the elimination of re-segregation in schools and classrooms, the elimination of achievement disparities among identifiably different students and the production of comparable outcomes in school performance. Major concerns included the creation and implementation of culturally relevant curriculum, varied teaching styles and strategies to match different student learning styles and heightened teacher expectations for high achievement for all students, regardless of differences. Educational equity was the focus of this generation. From an educational perspective, all learners cannot be treated the same because their different learning, social, cultural, emotional, psychological and physical needs automatically give rise to a need for varying approaches for them to achieve comparability.

Fourth Generation: 1990-2000State and National Government Reform Efforts, starting with a national governors meeting on education, challenging the country to view the new century as a marker for how public education should support educational excellence for all (Scott, 1995). The goal in this phase was to create new schools that work for diverse students, produce world-class students with world-class skills and to create new paradigms for civil rights and equity-based excellence. The concerns in this period included: providing reorganized and restructured professional development to help educators meet the challenges of preparing students for the 21st century; implementing culturally sensitive curricula to reflect equity; educating students for an economically, socially and politically diverse world that tilts toward social justice; developing lifelong learning competencies, including literacy, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills; providing instruction to produce 21st century workers and citizens possessing knowledge, skills and competencies in technology, information management, math, science and diverse cultures; and creating school and community collaborations on social and political issues affecting school operations and outcomes.

Fifth Generation: 2001-2011No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passage, starting with the educational and civil rights conversation, challenging public schools to be accountable for disaggregated student achievement outcomes (Scott, 2001). Here, the single primary focus was systemic equity. It was defined as the transformed ways in which systems and individuals habitually operate to ensure that every learner — in whatever learning environment that learner was found — had the greatest opportunity to learn, enhanced by the resources and supports necessary to achieve competence, excellence, independence, responsibility and self-sufficiency for school and for life. The EACs took this position even though the implementation of the act fell far short of it.

In our work at IDRA, which has for more than 40 years involved advocacy for underserved, diverse learners and their families in communities served by public schools, we have found that systemic equity can only be created in an environment where there are underlying assumptions about the right of every learner to receive the best possible public education. These assumptions include:

  • In public schools, excellence is never achieved if various groups of learners fail to succeed and achieve high standards with adequate supports.
  • Educators, parents and community members (all education stakeholders) who are committed to the national security of the United States are also committed to the Goals of Educational Equity and schools of excellence in principle and in practice.
  • A compelling commitment to excellence and educational equity disdains and seeks to eradicate racism, sexism, classism and the manifestations of discrimination spawned by these ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Just laws establish the necessary foundation for just action, and the achievement of the Goals of Educational Equity provides a necessary incentive to cause appropriate action to produce the desired outcomes.
  • When many education stakeholders see and understand what is right, just and fair for all learners, they desire to do what is right, just and fair.
  • Many people’s failure to do right by all learners is a function of a failure to see or understand, not a lack of will to do right by all learners.
  • When many people of good faith see disparities in outcomes for learners, they immediately desire to correct the deficiencies in systems and in individuals who operate those systems, as well as the practices those systems produce (Scott, 2001).

Sixth Generation: 2012-Beyond – NCLB as updated by the current administration’s Blueprint for Reform (2010) starts with challenging public schools to be more focused on rigorous curriculum presented by highly qualified, effective teachers under the supervision of dynamic principal leadership. How does one begin to create systemic equity? A good place to start is by conducting an educational equity audit. The Goals of Educational Equity above and the equity issue questions are excellent places to begin (Scott, 2012; 2013). This era challenges us to be more focused on rigorous curriculum presented by highly qualified teachers under the supervision of dynamic leadership.

The sixth generation demands that we examine the quality, correctness and suitability of the inputs to produce different outcomes for all learners regardless of their differences and that support them to develop the knowledge, skills and competencies that raise their global competitiveness in this 21st century world. Will our learners have the supports, resources and confidence they need to thrive? Will they be successful? Will they be able to support and work collaboratively with their counterparts locally and around the globe and transform our collective living toward a more sustainable, prosperous future for all? It is necessary to see the world now through a different lens.

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Other factors are emerging in this generation. The factors that cause persistent outcome gaps for learners — including issues of disproportionality; over- and under-representation in special education and gifted and talented programs of minorities, the linguistically different and learners living in poverty; high dropout rates for these same populations; persistent low college-going and college completion rates; and gender differences between learners — are clearly some of the key challenges this current generation of civil rights and educational excellence and equity compel us to address. But there is more. The sixth generation demands that we examine the quality, correctness and suitability of the inputs to produce different outcomes for all learners, regardless of their differences, and that support them to develop the knowledge, skills and competencies that raise their global competitiveness in this 21st century world. Will our learners have the supports, resources and confidence they need to thrive? Will they be successful? Will they be able to support and work collaboratively with their counterparts locally and around the globe and transform our collective living toward a more sustainable, prosperous future for all? It is necessary to see the world now through a different lens.

A Systems Lens and an Equity Lens

A deficit lens seeks to explain away, trivialize, excuse or fabricate the lived experiences of learners and their families as a reason for why they fare so poorly in schools. An equal lens ignores the diversity of real students in real communities and schools and the experiences they bring with them that shape who they are. An equity lens creates a different context to really see diverse learners, to value and embrace their similarities and differences and to find ways of appropriately responding to and capitalizing on those diverse characteristics to support, nurture, learn with, guide and help move them to success as a part of their experience in public schools, college and life.

An equity lens sees context that is comprised of the systems and structures a school district exists within and puts into place to ensure that no learner is denied the fair and equitable benefit of a quality, sound educational experience afforded to all students regardless of race, gender, national origin, language, economic level and special need. Great educators and leaders are prepared to engage students, families and communities so that the equitable benefit is created and guaranteed for all learners. This context becomes the most powerful lens through which all of the LEA business is conducted.

At a minimum, the following questions must be posed before a school system can employ an equity lens to serve all students well:

  1. How does this (practice or activity) impact all learners, including specific groups of learners?
  2. What might create a negative or adverse impact on any identifiable population?
  3. How might that adverse impact be avoided?
  4. What precautions should be taken as a district (campus/school, program) moves forward?
  5. How should implementation be monitored regarding comparable outcomes for all students and specific student groups?
  6. How must policies, practices and processes be changed to produce fair and equitable outcomes for all students and specific groups of students and their families?

Why Is the Work of the EACs Important?

The EACs have a continual history of expanding conversations and practices that positively impact outcomes for learners by race, gender and national origin in the nation’s schools. The origin of the EACs in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the only TA centers whose origin is connected to issues of non-discriminatory treatment, equal access and opportunity under the law, and protection from isolation by identifiable characteristics — is a singular and essential distinction. While funding has dwindled over the years for these centers, the need for the special focus and distinct technical assistance these centers provide continues to increase. While other TA providers may use an equity and excellence lens and approach in their service delivery, partnership with the EACs often becomes essential to providing support, direction and guidance to ensure appropriate civil rights-based considerations are reflected in the TA provided to schools, districts and state departments of education.

EAC services support both state departments of education and local education agencies (LEAs). This capacity to serve both states and LEAs helps to ensure a seamless and articulated connection between state administrative action and local, day-to-day response in implementation at the systems and community levels. While this is the intent in the work of the EACs, bringing it into existence is both difficult and uneven. The EACs continue to push for this seamless articulation to the greatest extent practicable. Finally, because the EACs work collaboratively with the Office for Civil Rights (U.S. Department of Education) and the Equal Education Opportunity Office (U.S. Department of Justice), they help to ensure that learners’ civil rights protections in public schools receiving federal funds will be addressed in policy and practice at the district and school levels. No other TA providers have this charge.

The work of the EACs challenge educators and other stakeholders to understand that educational institutions have an obligation to filter their business in support of student success through a lens of educational equity and excellence (Scott, 2013). This lens helps to protect the civil rights of every learner under the law; guarantee equitable educational opportunity for every learner; provide the appropriate educational supports for school success, postsecondary school attendance and completion, and life success, supported by the necessary resources to make that success possible; and ensure that every education stakeholder holds him or herself and others responsible for promoting these outcomes.

What Difference Do the EACs Make in Equity-Centered Capacity Building?

There are five ways the EACs make a difference in equity-centered capacity building. To begin with, at the center of the capacity building and technical assistance provided by the EACs is the civil rights standard of non-discrimination under the law. This core or essential element in their capacity building helps to ensure educational stakeholders can assess and correct biases and practices that would deny educational benefit to learners because of their race, color, sex, national origin, language or other differing characteristics. Second, the EACs have more than 30 years of history framing technical assistance and capacity building centered in civil rights that speaks not only to standard non-discrimination, but equally to important measures of equitable access, treatment and inclusion in educational settings, and the programs and offerings in those settings, regardless of the differences of learners. Third, because the EACs have historically been the TA providers for the Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice to assist districts and states to correct violations under the civil rights laws of the land, the EACs have been able to influence compliance in the application of the laws.

Fourth, in the implementation of major educational initiatives, the EACs have been able to craft a distinctive voice based on the requirements of civil rights laws. That is, because of this unique civil rights perspective, EACs have been able to guide educators to contemplate and respond to civil rights concerns in the implementation of Response to Intervention, the Common Core Learning Standards, graduation requirements, Codes of Student Conduct and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waivers. In each instance, the civil rights-based concerns raised by the EACs have alerted the nation to potential violations.

Fifth, the current sixth generation of educational reform is asking stakeholders to apply civil rights standards to teaching; learning; teacher and principal development, capacity building and preparation; curricular reform; student assessment and placement; policy development; fiscal management and resource allocation; facilities construction and geographical location in districts; technology acquisition and application; infrastructure creation, distribution and placement; and accountability — to mention only a few of the educational concerns that help to ensure fair and equitable treatment of learners under the law. This fifth and final aspect speaks to matters of the quality of the educational experience learners and their families have in public schools. Remarkably, it harkens back to the decision of the Supreme Court in the original Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, and the Civil Rights Act itself, where our work began.

The nation must ask itself if the investment in all learners is a matter important enough to national security, political and democratic viability, economic strength and global competiveness, and social stability to guarantee excellent education to every learner. The EACs have continually taken the position that the answer is yes. Their technical assistance, to build equity-centered capacity, has reflected that assertion since 1964.


Civil Rights Act of 1964, Public Law 88-352, 78 Stat. 241 (1964).

Network of Regional Desegregation Assistance Centers, “The Re-segregation of Public Schools: The Third Generation,” (June 1989).

Scott, Bradley, “In Pursuit of Equity: An Idea Whose Time Has Come,” IDRA Newsletter 17, no. 8 (San Antonio: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 1990): 9-12.

Scott, Bradley

“The Fourth Generation of Desegregation and Civil Rights, IDRA Newsletter (January 1995).

“From ‘DAC? to ‘EAC? – The Expanding Role of the Equity Assistance Center,” IDRA Newsletter (February 1999): 5, 8.

 “Coming of Age,” IDRA Newsletter (March 2001).

“The Challenge of Seeing,” IDRA Newsletter (September 2012).

“The Challenge of Seeing, Part II,” IDRA Newsletter (November – December 2013).

U.S. Department of Education, “A Blueprint for Reform – The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, March 2010).

U.S. Department of Education, The National Commission on Excellence in Education, “A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1983).

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About the Author

Bradley Scott, Ph.D., Director (Retired), South Central Collaborative for Equity (SCCE), Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA)

Dr. Bradley Scott is a former IDRA senior education associate who brings more than 40 years of experience to the field of education. While at IDRA, he directed the SCCE, which works with school districts in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas, in the implementation of educational equity plans that increase equitable educational opportunity and greater access to high-quality instruction for all students, regardless of their race, gender or national origin; the preparation and adaptation of desegregation and unitary status plans and settlement agreements to decrease and eliminate racial isolation in public schools; community, parent and student involvement in the diverse school setting; establishment of nondiscriminatory policies; elimination of racially biased curricular materials, establishment of safe/non-hostile school environments and the reduction of bullying, harassment and school violence for all students; and the creation of alternative materials for the development of human relations activities to promote racial harmony and an appreciation for diversity in public schools.

Dr. Scott has conducted training and provided technical assistance in human relations, intrapersonal and interpersonal communication, management and leadership skills development, effective leadership in diverse and desegregated settings, multicultural education, training for diversity, developing cross-cultural competence, and creating educational excellence for all through systemic change based on the Six Goals of Educational Equity and School Reform. His broad background has been instrumental in his present capacity, where he provides technical assistance and training to public school districts, school personnel, students in those schools, parents and community persons in the development and implementation plans to cope with educational issues emerging from the desegregation, unitary status, and settlement agreement processes and the effort to create educational equity and excellence for all learners in public schools. Dr. Scott has authored and co-authored numerous publications at IDRA.