WASHINGTON, DC--The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said today that the Department of Education needed to increase equal opportunity cooperation among its Office for Civil Rights and the Department's program Offices of Elementary and Secondary Education, Educational Research and Improvement, Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs, and Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

In a report to the President and Congress, the Commission suggested that the Department should build on an understanding, stated in memorandum form, between the Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services that has benefited the work of both offices.

The report, Volume I in a planned six-part study of equal educational opportunity in America's public elementary and secondary schools, was approved in a 7-0 vote by members of the Commission. The multiyear study by the Commission's Office of Civil Rights Evaluation is examining such issues as tracking and ability grouping of students; programs and placement for students with a mental or learning disability, behavioral disability, or serious emotional disturbance; programs and placement for students with limited English; and equal access for female students to advanced mathematics and sciences.

Besides containing much background information for the series, Volume I provides a general evaluation of, and recommendations for, civil rights enforcement by the Department of Education and, especially, its Office for Civil Rights (OCR). While offering recommendations for improvements in procedures, the report finds that OCR has "a highly developed ... program that should serve as a model" for other Federal agencies.

Among the recommendations, the report states that OCR headquarters should provide better guidance to workers in the regional offices. Changes in regulations promulgated by OCR are also recommended.

In a transmittal letter to the President and to congressional leaders, Commission Chairperson Mary Frances Berry said: "For nondiscrimination and equal educational opportunity to be assured in our Nation's public schools, it is essential that the Department of Education work hand in hand with school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and the community at large. The Commission's intention, with this report, is to assist the Department of Education in its efforts to strengthen its partnership with all of these groups and thereby enhance the Department's civil rights enforcement program."

The report states that OCR has displayed efficiency and that its funding should be increased so that it may accomplish more for civil rights.

Dr. Berry, a university professor and administrator who served as Assistant Secretary for Education in the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, stated that an emphasis on equal educational opportunity is essential to complement the importance being given to education by President Clinton and other national leaders.

"By strengthening civil rights enforcement in education we can assure that efforts to provide a quality education for all children truly include all of our children," she said.

The report may be obtained free from the Publications Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 624 Ninth St., N.W., Room 600, Washington, DC 20425.