Education Secretary Arne Duncan Pledges to Be Schools' Watchdog

Image: Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Education Secretary Arne Duncan announces new guidance to schools that holds them accountable for ensuring equal access and treatment for all students. He made the announcement at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014.Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

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WASHINGTON _ The Obama administration announced Wednesday new guidelines to prevent ensure equity in education for schoolchildren, one in four of whom are Latino.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the updated guidance in conjunction with the second day of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual conference, a gathering that comes amid tension between the administration and some factions of Latinos and immigrant advocates.

"Too often, as we all know, it is students of color who receive less not more," Duncan said at the conference.

Duncan said in a release all students regardless of race, zip code of family income should have equal access to effective teaching, challenging coursework, modern technology in schools and safety. The guidance is meant to fix schools where such equality does not exist, he said.

“Unfortunately in too many communities, especially those that are persistently underserved, serious gaps remain,” Duncan said in a prepared news release.

Duncan said the department will be a partner with schools and a watchdog to ensure students receive "what they need and deserve."

"Because we are seeing about increasing education success and attainment for all students, we must also be serious about increasing equitable access and opportunity in end the tired, decades-long practice of offering students of color less than what we offer to other students."

The guidance says that the department's Office of Civil Rights will not only investigate claims of intentional discrimination, but also of disparate treatment.

The announcement was cheered by National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia who learned of the announcement in advance. She had her staff work late Tuesday to design a place on the NEA website so the public could post information about "the school that needs justice."

"Equity is a cause that has been the cause of my heart since I was a teacher at the homeless shelter school in Salt Lake City. I believe every blessed child should be able to walk into that neighboring school and have everything they needed to make their dreams come true," Eskelsen Garcia said.

In the days leading up to President Barack Obama’s keynote speech Thursday, the administration has attempted to show areas where it has taken action to help Latinos, hoping to reduce focus only on the president’s decision to postpone taking executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections.

On Tuesday, the White House released an updated list of achievements for the Latino community, such as strengthening the economy, providing access to health care through the Affordable Care Act, efforts to raise the minimum wage and protecting voting rights. The list included “ensuring quality access to education for Hispanic students.”

The conference, an annual event, covers an array of topics from energy to Latinas in leadership to Wednesday’s event on rebuilding the minority middle class.

That panel also included Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who on Tuesday helped announce the administration’s plans to involve more local communities in the president’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. The initiative is focused on improving the lives of black and Latino young boys and men.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez was to participate in a panel on immigration Thursday afternoon.