Russlynn Ali was appointed assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education by President Barack Obama on March 18, 2009, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 1, 2009. As assistant secretary, Ali is U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan's primary adviser on civil rights and is responsible for enforcing U.S. civil rights laws as they pertain to education—ensuring the nation's schools, colleges and universities receiving federal funding do not engage in discriminatory conduct related to race, sex, disability or age.
Prior to joining the department, Ali served as vice president of the Education Trust in Washington, D.C., and as the founding executive director of the Education Trust—West in Oakland, Calif., since 2001. In those positions, she advocated for public school students in California focusing on achievement and opportunity gaps separating low-income African-American and Latino students from their peers; worked with school districts to improve curriculum and instructional quality at high-poverty and high-minority public schools; and designed, field-tested and implemented comprehensive audit tools that examined inequities in schools and districts. Ali also advised legislative and gubernatorial staff as well as senior education experts on education matters from her positions on numerous boards of directors and advisory committees, including College Track, the Institute for College Access and Success, and Great Schools. She was a member of the review board of the Broad Prize in Urban Education, was appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger to the Governor's Advisory Committee on Education Excellence, and the Curriculum and Instruction Committee of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, and received the Aspen Institute's New Schools Entrepreneurial Leaders for Public Education Fellowship.
Previously, Ali was a teacher, served as the liaison for the president of the Children's Defense Fund, as assistant director of policy and research at the Broad Foundation, and as chief of staff to the president of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education. She has also taught at the University of Southern California Law Center and the University of California at Davis.
In the legal field, Ali was a contract attorney at Bird, Marella, Boxer and Wolpert, deputy co-director and counsel at the Advancement Project at English, Munger & Rice, and an attorney at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, all in Los Angeles. Ali is a member of the California State Bar.
Ali received her J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law, where she was awarded the Lowden-Wigmore Prize for Trial Advocacy and was a Julius Miner Moot Court Finalist. She received her bachelor's degree in law and society from the American University. She also attended Spelman College.