The percentage of K–12 public schools with high proportions of students from low-income families and black or Hispanic students grew from 9 percent in School Year (SY) 2000–01 to 16 percent in SY 2013–14, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Released on the sixty-second anniversary of the Brown vs. Board Supreme Court decision declaring that racially segregated schools were inherently unequal, the report notes that these schools “offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in ninth grade, suspended, expelled.”
“Sixty-two years later, here we are in 2016 facing an overwhelming failure to fulfill the promise of Brown in realizing equality in educational opportunity for all students,” said U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), who requested the report along with U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) and former U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA). “The GAO report confirms that our nation’s schools are, in fact, largely segregated by race and class. What’s more troubling, is that segregation in public K–12 schools isn’t getting better; it’s getting worse, and getting worse quickly, with more than 20 million students of color now attending racially and socioeconomically isolated public schools. This report is a national call to action, and I intend to ensure Congress is part of the solution.”
According to the report, Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination, the percentage of students attending high-poverty schools of mostly black or Hispanic students has nearly doubled from 10 percent in SY 2000–01 to 17 percent in SY 2013–14. And even though students in those schools make up only 7 percent of all ninth-grade students, they represent 17 percent of the ninth graders who were held back, as shown in the graph below.
The report examines efforts underway in three school districts—one located each in the Northeast, South, and West—to correct these disparities, but it notes that they face a variety of challenges, including providing transportation to students and obtaining support from parents and the community.
Both the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have “critical” roles to play in addressing these disparities, the report finds, noting that the agencies enforce federal laws protecting students from racial discrimination and ensure schools and districts provide all students with equitable access. At the same time, however, GAO identifies shortcomings with their work and recommends that they better leverage the data available to them to aid their guidance, enforcement, and oversight efforts.
“Education has ongoing efforts to collect data that it uses to identify potential discrimination and disparities across key groups of students, but it has not routinely analyzed its data in a way that may reveal larger patterns among different types and groups of schools, the report notes. “As a result, the agency may miss key patterns and trends among schools that could enhance its efforts.”
The report notes that DOJ is a party to 178 federal desegregation orders that remain open, but that it “does not track key summary information about the orders that would allow them to effectively monitor their status. Without systematically tracking such information, the agency may lack information that could help in its enforcement efforts.”
Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination is available at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-345.