Legal

GAO Releases Report on Racial Discrimination

by Ernie Melcher

Recent literature shows that poor and minority students may not have full access to educational opportunities. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) was asked to examine poverty and race in schools and efforts by the Departments of Education and Justice, which are responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws prohibiting racial discrimination against students.

The report examined (1) how the percentage of schools with high percentages of poor and Black or Hispanic students has changed over time and the characteristics of these schools, (2) why and how selected school districts have implemented actions to increase student diversity, and (3) the extent to which the Departments of Education and Justice have taken actions to identify and address issues related to racial discrimination in schools.

The GAO found that the percentage of K-12 public schools in the United States with students who are poor and are mostly Black or Hispanic is growing and these schools share a number of challenging characteristics. From school years 2000-01 to 2013-14 the percentage of all K-12 public schools that had high percentages of poor and Black or Hispanic students grew from nine to sixteen percent. These schools were the most racially and economically concentrated: 75 to 100 percent of the students were Black or Hispanic and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. GAO’s analysis of Education data also found that compared with other schools, these schools offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in 9th grade, suspended, or expelled.

GAO recommends that Education more routinely analyze its civil rights data to identify disparities among types and groups of schools and that Justice systematically track key information on open federal school desegregation cases to which it is a party to better inform its monitoring. The report, Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination is available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/676745.pdf

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