K-12 Education: Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination

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Author(s): The U.S. Government Accountability Office

Published: May 17, 2016

Report Intro/Brief:
"Recent literature shows that poor and minority students may not have full access to educational opportunities. 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. This 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. GAO analyzed Education data for school years 2000-01 to 2013-14 (most recent available); reviewed applicable federal laws, regulations, and agency documents; and interviewed federal officials, civil rights and academic subject matter specialists, and school district officials in three states, selected to provide geographic diversity and examples of actions to diversify.

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 most recent data available), the percentage of all K-12 public schools that had high percentages of poor and Black or Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent, according to GAO's analysis of data from the Department of Education (Education). 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—a commonly used indicator of poverty. 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."