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Highlights

GAO discussed the adequacy of the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' (OCR) enforcement activities in eliminating possible racial discrimination in the within-school placement of elementary and secondary students. GAO noted that: (1) many schools had disproportionate numbers of minority students being assigned to lower-ability classes; (2) OCR conducted only one compliance review related to ability grouping and did not meet the regulatory requirement for conducting compliance reviews when it had information of possible noncompliance; (3) state and local education agencies lacked specific federal regulatory guidance regarding ability-grouping and tracking practices; (4) the lack of OCR written policy guidance for its regional offices contributed to inconsistent within-school discrimination investigations; and (5) OCR may have allowed discriminatory student assignment practices to persist because of insufficient monitoring. GAO believes that: (1) the reducted number of compliance reviews was mainly caused by a lack of resources and a rising compliant investigation work load; (2) without timely and comprehensive monitoring, OCR could not determine if school districts' actions were sufficient to correct identified discriminatory practices; and (3) the OCR national enforcement strategy, which makes several within-school discrimination issues a high priority, are steps in the right direction.

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