What is it about?

School choice is often touted as a way to desegregate schools, but a new study by Kalinda Ukanwa, Aziza C. Jones and Broderick L. Turner, Jr. shows it may drive segregation even when parents do not take racial demographics into consideration. Why? Because racial groups have different priorities when it comes to other school characteristics such as a school’s performance rating, teachers’ experience, income, or commute time. To determine the effect of school choice at scale, the researchers modeled school choice as an open market. The authors presented more than 1,600 Black and White parents with a set of fictional school choices intended to uncover underlying market segment preferences for school characteristics. While results showed that student racial makeup was important to both Black and White parents, after controlling for that preference, unmitigated school choice still increased segregation.

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Why is it important?

Implications are that for every 3% of households that exercise school choice, an additional 564,000 children will need to leave their schools to avoid an increase in segregation due to differences in priorities that Black and White parents place on other school characteristics.

Perspectives

“This research finds that Black and White parents are actively choosing different schools, which is likely due to a legacy of historical differences in social status in the US. The great news is that acknowledging these differences can help schools course-correct diversity in their schools. By speaking to the unique school preferences of these racial groups, schools may be able to recruit a diverse student body.” - Aziza C. Jones, PhD

Kalinda Ukanwa
University of Southern California

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This page is a summary of: School choice increases racial segregation even when parents do not care about race, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2117979119.
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