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Head of Education Dept.'s Civil Rights Office to Step Down

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Russlynn Ali, the hard-charging head of the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights, is stepping down from the post. Her last day is tomorrow.

Ali shared news of her departure during a conference call yesterday with folks in the civil rights community, the same day the Education Department released a four-year review of the work of OCR, which was nicely detailed by Nirvi Shah over at the Rules for Engagement blog.

Nothing official on her departure—or her replacement—has come from the Ed. Dept. yet.

The big question now is whether the very aggressive stance of OCR will stay intact or wane some after Ali is gone.

Ali, who headed Education Trust West in California where she championed causes such as requiring a college-level curriculum for all high school students in Los Angeles Unified, ramped up OCR's work on school discipline, harassment, and bullying, and opened up new areas of inquiry into students' access to charter schools and graduation rates at community colleges.

Instructional programs for English-language learners received lots of scrutiny under Ali, who partnered frequently with U.S. Department of Justice civil rights officials to bring even more pressure for change in school districts. OCR forced a number of changes for ELLs in Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, and the state of Arizona. OCR has also stepped up its reviews of practices in districts where civil rights advocates have complained that ELLs and their non-English-speaking parents are not providing adequate communications.

Over at Schooled in Sports, Bryan Toporek breaks down OCR's work on Title IX under Ali's leadership.

For folks in districts, an inquiry from OCR is a dreaded occurrence, and, in the view of some, it became even more so in the nearly four years Ali has been in charge. To counter those fears, Ali told me in a conversation late last year, she'd made providing technical assistance to districts more of a priority of OCR than it had been in previous administrations.

Now it will be interesting to see who will be her successor.

UPDATE: Seth Galanter, who has been a deputy assistant secretary in OCR, has been promoted to replace Ali as acting assistant secretary.


Photo: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, left, and Russlynn Ali, head of the Department of Education's office for civil rights, attend a board meeting of the Los Angeles Unified School District in 2011. (Reed Saxon/AP-File)

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