Does School Choice Increase Segregation? No, Says Brookings

The foundation of the school choice movement is a desire to empower parents with the ability to send their children to a high-quality school regardless of where the family lives. School choice advocates frequently charge that one's zip code shouldn't determine the quality of one's education — as wealthy neighborhoods tend to have good schools and poorer neighborhoods do not — and that opening up great schools to all is democratic, egalitarian and will help drive education reform.

But critics of school choice argue that this leaves poorer and predominantly minority students left back in traditional public schools as families who put a premium on education flee using choice — and that those families who take their children out of public schools move them into less diverse schools.

Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy has concluded that data shows it is unlikely that a relationship exists between school choice and segregation.

By comparing changes in charter enrollment with changes in minority students' exposure to non-minority students using information from the Common Core of Data, Chingos found that there's no significant relationship. He didn't stop there:

I also used an alternative measure of segregation called a "dissimilarity index" and obtained similar findings: no consistent relationship between changes in charter enrollment and changes in segregation. Finally, I conducted a more sophisticated panel data analysis that uses all nine years of data to estimate the relationship between charter enrollment and segregation using only the changes within counties over time. Once again, using both the exposure and dissimilarity indices, the results consistently indicated no meaningful relationship between choice and segregation.

Critics may not be completely satisfied, and Chingos recognizes that it's still possible that school choice and segregation are related — but that it's very unlikely:

The lack of any consistent relationship between charter enrollment and segregation does not eliminate the possibility that such a relationship exists, but suggests that it is unlikely. For there to be a relationship, it would have to be the case that counties where charter enrollment increased experienced an increase in segregation as a result but then adopted policies (or experienced other changes) that counteracted the increase in segregation. In my view, that is not a very plausible explanation for these results.

The growth of charter schools and school choice has been consistent over the last 15 years, with ~1% of students enrolled in charters in 2000 and more than 3% by 2010. Arizona — and cities such as Washington, DC and New Orleans — has been aggressive in promoting school choice, with Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois and others making up a total of 17 states with school choice programs.


Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.
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