GAO Report Cites Evidence of Growing Isolation, Disparities in Education

Today marks the 62nd anniversary of one of the Supreme Court’s most far-reaching decisions in its implications, but sadly ineffectual in its implementation: Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down the lawful racial segregation of schools.

The promise of Brown is yet to be fulfilled; in fact, we are moving backwards as a country. The Departments of Education and Justice asked the Government Accountability Office to study changes in student racial isolation or integration over time.

Today, the GAO released its report, K-12 Education: Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination. I’m a little suspicious, though. Don’t we already have reams of information, documented instances of disparity in every corner of the country, disparities of teacher quality, curriculum, and school facilities? I’m not convinced that more information is what we need.

The report itself provides abundant information. The GAO found plenty of evidence of unequal treatment and unequal results:

  • Racial and socioeconomic isolation in K-12 public schools increased from 9% to 16%.
  • 61% of all high poverty schools are 75% students of color. Hispanic students make up the largest segment of this group; black students are 16%.
  • The poverty rate of black and Hispanic students is two to three times higher than that of white students.
  • The growth in racial and socioeconomic isolation was concentrated in schools where 75% to 100% of the students were black or Hispanic and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
  • While the concentration of poor black and Hispanic students in traditional public school decreased from 94% to 81% between the 2000—2001 and the 2013—2014 school years, their presence increased in charter schools from 3% to 13% and in magnet schools from 3% to 5%, during that same time period.
  • Hispanic students tend to be triply segregated: by race or ethnicity, economics, and language.

The GAO report includes disturbing impacts:

  • Less than half of these schools offered AP math courses, compared to the availability of such courses in almost two-thirds of schools that are more racially and socioeconomically diverse.
  • Among all schools, low-income and minority students were far less likely to enroll in these more rigorous courses.
  • GAO also found that, despite the “high-poverty” majority black and Hispanic school students comprising only 12% of all K-12 public school students, they accounted for 22% of all students with more than one out-of-school suspension.

Concentrated poverty, racial isolation, and low-resourced schools all work against the human flourishing of low income students. High-resourced, diverse schools that set high expectations benefit all students, including low income students of color.