School Choice vs. School Choice

Policy Backgrounders | Education

No. 155
Friday, April 27, 2001
by John C. Goodman and Matt Moore

Choice Outside the Housing Market: Effects on Racial Integration

Over the past four decades, many - perhaps most - large city school systems have operated under court order. In these systems, federal judges must approve all important decisions to achieve one overriding goal: racial integration. The efforts all have failed. For example, the Dallas School District - which is 54.6 percent Hispanic, 35.8 percent African-American, 7.8 percent white, 1.4 percent Asian, and 0.4 percent American Indian - is the only Texas school district still under the jurisdiction of a federal court.57 In response to the court, and sometimes to head off legal action, Dallas has established an array of disparate programs. Yet Dallas has 28 of the state's lowest-performing schools and is the worst of Texas' eight largest school districts.58

"Overall, private school students are more likely than public school students to form racially heterogeneous groups."

More generally, half of all public school 12th graders are in classes that have more than 90 percent or fewer than 10 percent minority students. The situation has been very different in the private sector. Just 41 percent of private school students are in similarly segregated classrooms.59 More than 37 percent of private school students are in classes whose racial composition is within 10 percent of the national average, while only 17.8 percent of public school students are in classes that are similarly mixed.60

Overall, private school students are more likely than public school students to form racially heterogeneous groups. According to Jay Greene, 63.5 percent of students observed in private school lunchrooms sat in groups in which one in five students was of a different race. In public schools 49.7 percent of students were in a similarly integrated lunchroom setting.61

Milwaukee's choice program is an example of this generalized national trend. Opponents of the program raised fears that most students fleeing Milwaukee public schools for private schools would be white. In fact, the racial composition of the program is almost identical to that of the public schools.62

Figure IV - Students Attending Texas Charter Schools

Cleveland's story is much the same. Some 19 percent of Cleveland's voucher recipients attend private schools that have a racial composition resembling the makeup of the Cleveland area.63 Only 5 percent of public school students in the Cleveland area are in comparably integrated schools.64 In addition, more than 61 percent of public school students in metropolitan Cleveland attend schools that are almost all white or almost all minority.65 Only half the students in Cleveland's Scholarship Program are in comparably segregated schools. Integration is not great in either system but is markedly better in the choice program

"Charter schools in Texas are 70 percent minority, while the traditional public schools are only 53 percent minority."

These results are indicative of school choice programs - both public and private - across the country. For example, more than 70 percent of the students in Texas' 178 charter schools are minorities66 - 45 percent Hispanic and 29.3 percent African-American - while 53 percent are minority in regular public schools.67 [See Figure IV.]

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