San Francisco Sees Segregation as Side Effect of School Choice


As schools in the San Francisco area begin to offer more school choice for parents, they also appear to be facing a period of resegregation.

Although schools in the district are no longer as segregated as they were in 1966 when one-third of schools had 80% of their students represent one race, they are beginning to segregate once again. More than 25% of schools in the city count 60% of their students within one race.

Diversity plays a large part in academic performance within a school district. Recent studies from Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley found students are more likely to perform better when learning in an integrated classroom. In addition, students in such a setting are less likely to hold racial stereotypes and prejudices.

While court rulings and laws banning educators from using race as a term for admissions and school assignments have contributed to the current segregation happening throughout the district, it is believed that increased school choice opportunities, which may be difficult for low-income families to decipher and navigate, in addition to the limited availability of free transportation, are playing a role in demographic shifts.

Parents are given a large amount of information on various choices in schooling for their child. In addition, the application process is long and requires parents to not only have a good understanding of the English language but also access to technology.

"Choice is inherently inequitable," San Francisco Board of Education member Sandra Fewer said at a December meeting on student assignment. "If you don't have resources, you don't have choice."

According to the district's policy director Orla O'Keeffe, parents who have a higher education and are more affluent compete for seats available at the highest-performing schools. Meanwhile, students from low-income families, which are typically black and Latino, routinely end up being placed in the underperforming schools.

There are currently only a few tools available to the district to help correct the issue.

"If you've got racially isolated choice patterns, then your capacity to create diversity using a choice mechanism is constrained," O'Keeffe said. "There's none of that in our system. It's all about what families want."

While the school choice system does try to keep everyone on a level playing field by offering preference to students who live in neighborhoods where low average test scores are prevalent, some Board of Education members have admitted that the system used to determine this is flawed, writes Jeremy Adam Smith for The San Francisco Public Press.

Education leaders across the district are pushing for efforts that would help to re-integrate schools. One idea looks at using language tracks to attract white and middle-class families to racially isolated schools.

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