School Choice: Will It Create a Segregated America?

May 24, 2013

Education is one the most important elements of a free and democratic society. Many politicians and political think tanks have been debating back and forth about the merits of school choice, and whether or not it would create benefits for U.S. children or increase segregation and disadvantage some U.S. children. Based on recently exposed data, the argument that segregation increases in schools when parents are given an ability to choose the school for their children is flawed, says Matthew M. Chingos of the Brookings Institution.

Consider:

  • A study done by UCLA Civil Rights Project claims that black charter school students were twice as likely to attend a school that enrolled less than 10 percent non-minority students compared to classmates in traditional public schools.
  • Although this evidence might be convincing on first glance, this type of analysis says little to nothing about segregation caused by educational choice. It compares charter schools to schools nationwide, when charter schools are usually located in areas that contain large concentrations of minority students.
  • A reanalysis of the data presented in UCLA's Civil Rights Project indicates that there are much smaller differences between charter and traditional public schools when more applicable standards were considered.

Analysis based on the Common Core of Data (an annual federal government census over all public schools) indicates that:

  • The average minority student attends a school that is 33 percent non-minority. Essentially, the typical minority student attends a major minority school.
  • Likewise, the student that is eligible for free lunch benefits attends a school where more than half of the students are also eligible for a free lunch.
  • As a result, the UCLA study shows us nothing about whether or not segregation is increased when families utilize charter schools.

Based on the data, there is a lack of any consistent relationship between charter schools and segregation. While this doesn't mean there isn't one, it suggests it is extremely unlikely. No politician or political think tank will advocate that there isn't a problem with segregation in American society, but whether or not school choice will potentiate that problem is another story, and based on the evidence it is highly unlikely.

Source: Matthew M. Chingos, "Does Expanding School Choice Increase Segregation?" Education Next, May 16, 2013.

 

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