Charter Schools’ Impact on Racial Segregation in K-12 Education

A new study led by Peter Rich, an assistant professor in the department of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, finds that the expansion of charter schools in the 2000s led to an increase in school segregation and a slight decline in residential segregation.

According to the study, the average district to expand charter school enrollment between 2000 and 2010 experienced a 12 percent increase in White-Black school segregation and a 2 percent decrease in White-Black residential segregation. The patterns moved in opposite directions, the research found, because charter schools – which receive public funds but operate independently – weaken the traditional link between neighborhood and school assignment, allowing families to choose more racially homogenous schools regardless of where they live.

“When school choice efforts allow parents to decide where to send their kids in an educational marketplace, school segregation increases – even if that is not the policy’s intention,” Dr. Rich said. “Whatever benefits come from the expansion of school choice should really be considered in tension with the public goal of school integration.”

“We’re in an era of race-neutral educational reform in which desegregation efforts have been slowly dismissed by courts, giving way to parents as key players in generating school segregation,” Dr. Rich added. “We should create policies that encourage parents to integrate schools rather than letting unfettered choice produce the same patterns we have tried to eliminate over the last 65 years.”

The full study, “Segregated Neighborhoods, Segregated Schools: Do Charters Break a Stubborn Link?” was published on the website of the journal Demography. It may be accessed here.

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  1. How important is school integration?

    Well, it may generate indirect benefits over the long term, but to raise the overall academic performance of black students the focus should be on improving the parenting skills of women in female-headed households. More bang for the buck there.

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