DeVos and Sessions: What happens now?

Just over a week ago, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education and Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. For advocates of school desegregation, it’s hard to imagine a worse scenario. In light of all this, I wanted to revisit the GAO report on school segregation mentioned in my first post. As noted there, the report tracks the increase in school segregation between the 2000-01 and 2013-14 school years. It then offers recommendations for how the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) can help to reverse this trend.

Its main recommendation is its title: “Better use of information could help agencies identify disparities and address racial discrimination.”

For the DOE:

  • “We recommend that the Secretary of Education direct Education’s Office for Civil Rights to more routinely analyze its Civil Rights Data Collection by school groupings and types of schools across key elements to further explore and understand issues and patterns of disparities. For example, Education could use this more detailed information to help identify issues and patterns among school types and groups in conjunction with its analyses of student groups.”

The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) includes data on student characteristics (disaggregated according to familiar sub-groups), academic offerings and school disciplinary practices, based on a survey of all K-12 public schools. Although response rates have been a challenge, the DOE received approval from the Office of Management and Budget to require every K-12 school to respond to the CRDC survey in the 2013-14 and 2015-16 school years.

The GAO report charges that more nuanced and thorough review of the CRDC can help the department to target problems and offer guidance to states and school districts. For example, if analysis according to race revealed that certain subgroups were subject to disproportionately high expulsion rates (which it has!), then the department could use this information to inform state or local level investigations and to offer guidance on how to address these disparities.  

And, for the DOJ:

  • “We recommend that the Attorney General of the United States direct the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to systematically track key summary information across its portfolio of open desegregation cases and use this data to inform its monitoring of these cases. Such information could include, for example, dates significant actions were taken or reports received.”

As of November 2015, the DOJ was monitoring approximately 178 open desegregation orders, many of which have been in place for decades. In cases where integration efforts are lagging, the DOJ can file suit to enforce court orders, which can lead to efforts like “creating special schools and redrawing attendance zones in such a way as to foster more racial diversity.”

Although the DOJ keeps track of basic information about each case (e.g., “the case name, the court docket number”), the GAO report charges that DOJ “does not systematically track summary information” about each case, “such as the date of the last action or the nature of the last action taken.” The report cautions: “the potential exists that some cases could unintentionally languish for long periods of time.” In one case, for example, a district required to submit annual reports on desegregation efforts simply stopped doing so, for 20 years.

Of course, it’s unreasonable to expect that any of this will happen in any meaningful way under DeVos and Sessions. DeVos has already indicated that she will cut “unnecessary” programs at the DOE, and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR)/the CRDC certainly are potential targets. I can’t imagine that Jeff Sessions will turn into an advocate for school integration.

At the very least, I wanted to reproduce the GAO recommendations here, so there’s a quick/easy way to come back to it. The pace of absurdity has been so relentless with the Trump Administration that just keeping track of everything feels at least like the beginning of a form of resistance. Hopefully more information will lead to more action. On this blog, for example, I’ll try to keep track of any reporting on federal desegregation orders, such as this one in Cleveland, MS. And, the publicly available CRDC is accessible to anyone with the time and resources to do the kind of analyses that likely won’t happen if DeVos cuts funding to the OCR. If you have any other ideas – big or small – let me know in the comments.

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