Examining The Impact Of Choice On Factors Causing School Segregation

Year: 2015

Author: Perry, Laura, Lubienski, Christopher

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In an era of increasing social inequality, many have pointed to education systems as either (or both) a cause or potential remedy for widening gaps in opportunity, outcomes, and economic benefits. But, since schooling is a largely a local good (with proximity a primary consideration for families), there is concern that schools too often simply reflect the social divisions already manifested on other social areas, such as residential patterns. While school choice — allowing families to choose beyond their assigned local school — represents a potential remedy for this problem, the evidence on the effects of choice across contexts is rather mixed. This raises questions about how the policy and contextual specifics of choice (and consequent competition) nullify or amplify the potential of choice to alleviate or exacerbate segregation in education.
This paper offers a comprehensive review of the literature relating to school choice and school social segregation across the globe. While the research overall provides no clear and consistent finding on the causal relationship between choice and student sorting patterns, a deeper examination of this literature may uncover patterns and specific factors that mediate the impact of choice on school segregation. These patterns might relate to policy factors in how choice is operationalized or structural factors such as funding schemes, privatization, public reporting of school performance data and the level of competition between schools. At the same time, contextual issues such as income inequality, religious or ethnic divisions, residential segregation, social mobility, and transportation may mediate the impact of choice on segregation. Furthermore, different findings need to be considered on methodological issues: how segregation and choice are defined and measured.
In this review, we survey the extant evidence across contexts on the relationship of multiple factors to in- and between-school segregation. The primary purpose of the paper is to identify all known factors thought to impact the effects of choice on student sorting, and to produce hypotheses on how these factors may be mediated by policy, contextual, and research considerations. Our future research will advance from these hypotheses in measuring the impact of multiple variables on the exercise and outcomes of choice.
There are obviously ethical concerns about denying students — especially those from marginalized or disadvantaged backgrounds — access to quality education options. However, and particularly with the rise of school choice as an organizing principle and mechanism for education, there are also efficiency concerns in failing to provide effective educational experiences to wide swaths of the population. Research clearly indicates that the social composition of a school is a strong predictor of school performance. At the same time, families seek to choose the best option for their own children, often using proxy indicators such as social characteristics of a school. Thus, for both equity and efficiency reasons, the wider community has an interest in how school enrolments are constituted, and giving disadvantaged students access to more affluent schools can increase their academic outcomes without necessarily harming those of the more affluent students. By identifying the factors that impede or promote greater social integration, and determining how those factors are influenced by choice schemes, this project will shed much needed light on the potential of choice to remedy this chronic concern.