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Civil Rights Data on School Desegregation Has Undergone Startling Changes

What exactly is going on with federal data about school desegregation?

In a story published Wednesday, we examine major shifts in the number of school districts reporting they have court desegregation orders or voluntary plans. In short: The number of districts plunged by more than 80 percent from 2011-12 to 2013-14, then nearly doubled from 2013-14 to 2015-16.

The U.S. Department of Education says it doesn't have an explanation, and pointed to the fact that this information is reported and certified by the districts themselves. But experts we talked to say it's hard to explain. A change to a key definition about desegregation in education, approved by the Obama administration, was designed to capture a broader scope of these cases. Instead, the opposite appears to have occurred.

Most desegregation orders and plans have been on the books for many years if not decades, stretching back to the civil rights era. But the data doesn't clearly reflect this. For example, many districts that reported having such an order or plan in 2015-16, the most recent round of the Civil Rights Data Collection, didn't report having one for 2011-12 or 2013-14. Check out the pie chart of this strange phenomenon below: 

Share of Districts Reporting They Were Under Desegregation Orders or In Desegregation Plans By Year

Need the link to that story again? Click here.


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