Among the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) new list of priority open recommendations to the Department of Education (DOE) one common thread continues to jump out – improving data quality to ensure the well-being and education of school-age children.


In 2020, GAO recommended that the DOE Assistant Secretary for the Office for Civil Rights identify factors that cause underreporting and misreporting of restraint and seclusion, and take steps to help school districts overcome these issues.


GAO acknowledged that DOE has started to improve the accuracy of data related to restraint and seclusion incidents in public schools by developing business rules targeting school districts that report very low and very high numbers of incidents, and setting data-driven thresholds.


But according to the GAO, to fully implement this recommendation the DOE needs to work with districts to identify and address the underlying causes of misreporting.


“Until Education more fully understands why so many school districts are underreporting and misreporting federal restraint and seclusion data, it will likely not be able to help districts improve their reporting, thereby improving the accuracy and utility of the data,” the report notes.


GAO also recommended that the Secretary of Education identify the factors that cause underreporting and misreporting of information on management organizations that contract with charter schools, and take steps to help states report accurate data on these contracts.


“Unless Education takes steps to improve data quality, it cannot measure and properly mitigate elevated financial and programmatic risks,” the GAO noted.


To fully implement this recommendation, GAO added, DOE should gather data on how states determine whether charter schools have contracts with management organizations and modify the instructions for data submissions.


GAO said that other areas on its biennial high-risk list “have direct implications for Education and its operations.” Those include improving the management of IT acquisitions and operations and ensuring the nation’s cybersecurity.


“We urge your attention to these government-wide high-risk issues as they relate to Education,” GAO said.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.