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GAO Asked to Evaluate School Integration Policies In Wake of Brown Anniversary

By guest blogger Christina A. Samuels 

Three federal lawmakers have asked a congressional watchdog agency to examine school district policies and their impact on racial and socioeconomic integration, as well as analyze the changes in student racial isolation or integration over time. 

The letter to the General Accountability Office, dated May 16, came from U.S. Reps. George Miller of California, John Conyers of Michigan, and Bobby Scott of Virginia, all Democrats. Miller is the ranking member of the House committee on education and the workforce.   

The directive to the GAO was tied to the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, which struck down the idea of "separate but equal" education. But, as Education Week recently explored, schools in many places continue to be highly segregated.  Schools filled with students of a single race are common, as are one-race school districts in pockets of the South and in the inner cities. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is also celebrating an anniversary year, as well as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, gave the federal government tools to pursue desegregation on a large scale

The joint directive from the congressmen suggests that current school policies may be driving some of the racial and economic isolation. From the letter: 

Despite 60 years having passed since Brown, African-American and Latino students are more likely to be poor, far less likely than their white and Asian peers to perform on grade level, and more than twice as likely to drop out of high school before earning a diploma. As dramatic achievement gaps persist and demographics within communities are changing, there is growing concern that much of the initial progress made toward school integration in the decades immediately following Brown is dissipating and that policy changes are being made within public education without deliberate consideration for the impact on and effects of racial and socioeconomic isolation.  

Among the issues the agency has been asked to evaluate are school assignment policies, closures and consolidations, voluntary actions districts have undertaken to further integration, and these actions' effect on student performance. 

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