Does School Choice Increase Segregation?

school choiceOne of the arguments opponents of school choice — and particularly those who are anti charter schools — now make most frequently is that increased options and the ability for families to select schools rather than be assigned to them is somehow decreasing diversity and promoting segregation. I’ve written previously on this topic through the lens of Denver Public Schools (where it’s not the case), but wondered what a broader look might reveal. Thankfully, this analysis has now been done over a nine-year period, and by Brookings (so please hold off on claims that it is politically tarnished).

What the author found was really interesting. To start, as I’ve argued as well, the comparison of large static averages are not particularly useful, particularly when comparing dense urban populations with other demographics, which the Brookings analysis makes clear:

For example, a 2010 report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project found that black charter school students were twice as likely to attend schools that enrolled fewer than 10 percent non-minority students as their counterparts in traditional public schools. This type of analysis says little about segregation because it compares charter schools to all schools nationwide, when charter schools tend to be located in areas with large concentrations of minority students.

Intelligently, the study takes a far more nuanced approach:

A better approach to the question of whether choice increases segregation is to look at changes over time. Did areas that saw large increases in choice experience larger increases in segregation than areas that saw smaller increases in choice?

And the conclusion? With a few different ways of cutting the data, the author finds “…no consistent relationship between changes in charter enrollment and changes in segregation.” 

Truth here is that there may well be some places where charters increase segregation, as well as more places they do not. Each jurisdiction should look carefully at its authorizing policy for charters and other choice schools (especially magnet programs, which often do increase segregation).  But it’s also abundantly clear that there is little truth to this claim, and we should all be increasingly suspicious of those who fan its false flames.

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