Panel: Schools, Neighborhoods, and Inequality: Lessons from Magnets, Charters, and School Desegregation

Thursday, November 2, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Comiskey (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Ann Owens, University of Southern California
Panel Chairs:  Ann Owens, University of Southern California
Discussants:  Eric Brunner, University of Connecticut and Joshua Hyman, University of Connecticut

Latino Migration and School District-Level Trends in Private and Charter School Enrollments
Jacob Hibel, University of California, Davis and Matthew Hall, Cornell University

School Options and Residential Segregation
Peter Rich1, Ann Owens2 and Jennifer Candipan2, (1)Cornell University, (2)University of Southern California

Choosing Homes without Choosing Schools? Urban Parents Navigating Neighborhoods and School Choice
Maria Krysan, Amanda E. Lewis, Max Cuddy and Deanna Christianson, University of Illinois, Chicago

Educational Consequences of the End of Court-Ordered School Desegregation
Rucker Johnson, University of California, Berkeley

Alternatives to “neighborhood schools” have become increasingly common. Magnet and charter schools each served 5% of U.S. public school students in 2013, a five-fold increase in charter and a doubling of magnet enrollment share since 2001. Non-neighborhood schools are often seen as tools to reduce school segregation. Addressing segregation explicitly, over 700 school districts have been under desegregation order since 1954, promoting integration via various student assignment plans.

What are the implications of non-neighborhood school options for equality of opportunity and achievement among students of different racial/ethnic and class groups? This panel addresses this question from different perspectives, using multiple methods and data sets. The papers move beyond past research by considering both the broader social context of school choice (e.g., the changing demography of schoolchildren; the neighborhoods and housing linked to school options) and the mechanisms through which school options shape inequality (e.g., parents’ varying knowledge of neighborhood and school options; the financial resources linked to neighborhood schools). This comprehensive approach provides a richer analysis of how educational, as well as housing, policies shape inequality.

Hibel & Hall explore how the increasing prevalence of Latino students contributes to both the proliferation of school options and the racial composition of those schools. They show that in areas experiencing a new influx of Latino residents, charter and private schools emerge as schooling alternatives primarily for white students, contributing to racial segregation between Latino and white children’s schools. Owens et al. examine how the proliferation of magnet, charter, and private schools contributes to residential, rather than school, segregation. They find that in places where more students enroll in non-neighborhood schools, residential segregation between racial groups is lower due in part to the decoupling of residential and school options. School options may thus be equalizing (for neighborhoods) or segregating (for schools).

Underlying these papers are assumptions about parents’ awareness of school options as they select both schools and neighborhoods. Krysan et al., drawing on evidence from a qualitative study of white, black, and Latino parents in Chicago’s working class neighborhoods, call these assumptions into question. They find that most parents do not consider schools when choosing where to live, either because parents assume the neighborhood school will do or because they plan to use non-neighborhood choice options. Family income, knowledge of the school choice system, and success in accessing non-neighborhood schools shapes who has access to opportunity.

Motivating these papers is the question of whether school choice might improve the opportunities and outcomes of disadvantaged children. Johnson addresses this, showing whether and how re-segregation, resulting from the dismissal of desegregation orders since 1990, affects children’s educational outcomes. He finds that allocating additional resources to schools serving poor and minority students mitigates the potential negative impacts of re-segregation on black student achievement. These findings raise questions about the utility of school choice versus finance reform in the context of persistently segregated neighborhoods.

This panel provides new evidence on whether and how an array of non-neighborhood school options promotes or reduces inequality.

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