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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the: (1) extent to which U.S. elementary and secondary schools may discriminate against minority students in assignment practices; and (2) adequacy of the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' (OCR) enforcement activities regarding within-school discrimination.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education To provide federal guidance to state and local education agencies, the Secretary of Education should issue title VI regulations that identify practices schools should use for assigning students to classes on the basis of academic ability or achievement level.
Closed - Implemented
A memorandum from the Attorney General instructing agencies to fully utilize disparate impact provision in current regulations and the development by OCR of policy guidance on using disparate impact analysis in ability grouping investigations accomplished the purpose of this recommendation.
Department of Education To help ensure that regional offices reach consistent determinations in their investigations, the Secretary of Education should direct the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights to develop and issue policy guidance that specifies how and when regional offices should use disparate impact analysis in title VI ability-grouping and tracking investigations. This policy guidance should specify the appropriate methods and criteria for determining: (1) if district practices have a segregative effect; (2) if the practices are educationally justified; and (3) when and how to determine the availability of alternative methods of student assignment. In addition, policy guidance of similar specificity should be developed on the appropriate analytic approaches to be used in investigations of each of the other within-school discrimination issues.
Closed - Implemented
Education's Office for Civil Rights provided guidance to its staff and the public, including state and local education agencies, regarding appropriate legal standards governing student class assignment and the investigation of possible within-school discrimination. These measures were taken in response to a number of factors, including the report, indicating that such guidance was needed. In addition to GAO's concern, concerns were expressed by civil rights advocates and the education community. Based on these concerns, Education concluded that it could do more to enhance civil rights compliance in this area by clarifying the standards of compliance.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should direct the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights to ensure that regional offices give monitoring high priority, as specified in the OCR enforcement strategy. The Assistant Secretary should enforce agency policy that requires OCR regional offices to monitor school districts until they verify that approved corrective action plans have been fully implemented and that the districts' actions have corrected the violations.
Closed - Implemented
Education has taken steps to ensure the priority status of its monitoring activities. For example, regional directors' performance agreements include completion of monitoring as a criterion. Also, an automated monitoring tracking system is being implemented in the regions.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should direct the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights to: (1) identify the kinds of training and technical assistance related to within-school student assignment issues that could be provided by regional desegregation assistance centers; and (2) enter into agreements, if possible, with the centers to obtain needed services for OCR investigations.
Closed - Implemented
Education has coordinated with desegregation assistance centers regarding OCR ability-grouping investigations and the provision of training. Also, agency-sponsored training related to ability-grouping investigations is underway.

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