“School Choice Increases School Segregation”

Erin Zagursky:

Choice is generally thought to be a good thing. But with any choice comes consequence–intentional or otherwise.
When it comes to choosing where our children go to school, researchers have found as educational choices increase, our public schools become more racially segregated.
Salvatore Saporito and Deenesh Sohoni, faculty in William and Mary’s sociology department, wanted to see if the racial mix and poverty rates of students in public schools matches those of the neighborhoods the schools serve. For instance, if census data identifies the population of the area served by a certain elementary school as 48 percent white, 37 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic, then shouldn’t the school’s enrollment reflect that mix?
It should, but research by Saporito and Sohoni indicates that it often doesn’t, at least in many of the nation’s largest school districts. So what’s going on? It’s important to know; so important that their research is part of evidence presented in two current U.S. Supreme Court cases.
Their research draws a connection between school choice and segregation, but hasn’t yet tackled the “whys.” Are some parents more financially able to exercise school choice than their neighbors? Are there racial motives? And what motivates parents to keep their children in neighborhood schools, because staying in the local schools is also a choice–or is it?
Saporito and Sohoni’s next step is to investigate those thousands and thousands of individual family decisions that drive the trend–the individual tiles that make up the mosaic their research already has revealed. The size and scope of their work so far will make that next step a daunting task, but their mastery of mapping technology will make it a little easier.