Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Impact of City-Wide Open Enrollment on Socioeconomic Segregation in Schools and Access to High-Quality Teachers

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 2:25 PM
Tequesta (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jennifer Jennings1, Lindsay Bell Weixler2, Nathan Barrett2, Ron Zimmer3 and Douglas N. Harris2, (1)New York University, (2)Tulane University, (3)Vanderbilt University
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans school system witnessed a dramatic transformation. In the fall of 2005, the state took over nearly all of the district’s schools and made them city-wide open-access, with students no longer assigned to their neighborhood school. Advocates of choice argue that the revamped system has not only led to improved student achievement, but also creates the possibility of greater integration of students from different backgrounds. However, opponents argue that only the most advantaged families are able to navigate the system, creating further segregation by socioeconomic status (SES) and race and potentially limiting the ability of disadvantaged students to access good teachers and schools. 

This paper sheds light on this debate, as we examine differences in the distribution of students and teachers before and after the wide use of school choice within the district. Specifically, we address the following questions:

  1. Are students similarly distributed by SES and race across schools over the period from 2001-2013?
  2. Are teachers similarly distributed by value-added score across schools over the period from 2001-2013? How does the school proportion of high value-added teachers vary with the proportion of low-income and minority students in each year?

To address these questions, we use student-level enrollment and achievement data along with teacher employment information. We use two common segregation indices, Dissimilarity and Isolation, to assess changes in school segregation (Massey & Denton, 1989). To examine student segregation, we calculate the Dissimilarity and Isolation indices for kindergarten and ninth-grade students across schools by SES and race in each year, finding that in general, racial segregation is lower in the post-storm period (though still high by conventional standards), but socioeconomic segregation is higher. These findings are consistent with recent literature showing decreasing disparities by race, but increasing disparities by class in the United States (Reardon, 2011) and provide support for the concern that higher-income families are better able to navigate the system.

The next step in this study will be to determine whether this trend toward higher socioeconomic segregation is accompanied by a corresponding tendency for higher-quality teachers to concentrate to a greater degree in more-advantaged schools. To address this question, we will calculate a value-added score (relative to all teachers in the state) for each teacher in each year and then calculate the Dissimilarity and Isolation indices for the distribution of teachers across schools in each year. We will then calculate the correlations between the proportion of high-value-added teachers and the proportion of low-income and minority students in each year.

Giving all students access to high-quality teachers is an important step in creating an equitable school system. However, an open-enrollment charter school system does not guarantee equitable access. Schools with better resources may attract and be able to hire more high-quality teachers, and more advantaged families may be better able to explore their options and get their children into schools with better teachers. Given this concern, this paper addresses an important policy question in the design of new urban school systems.