School choice adds to growth in economic segregation

Segregation of public schools by family income has increased significantly in the past two decades, according to a new study by three leading education researchers. And school-choice policies have likely contributed to economic segregation, they say.

The study draws on multiple data sources to measure segregation of students between school districts and segregation between schools within the same districts. Interestingly, it finds some of the largest increases were in intra-district segregation.

The study is in this month’s issue of the American Educational Research Journal. Authors are Ann Owens of the University of Southern California, Sean Reardon of Stanford and Christopher Jenks of Harvard.

Findings include:

  • Segregation by income between school districts increased by 15 percent between 1990 and 2010.
  • In the nation’s 100 largest school districts, economic segregation within districts increased by 40 percent during the same period.
  • Economic segregation of schools is about two-thirds as extensive as white-black segregation and about the same as white-Hispanic segregation.

The study concludes that rising income inequality in the U.S. is a primary cause of the growing economic segregation of schools. As the gap grows between rich and poor, affluent families are more likely to segregate themselves into enclaves where there are few poor children in the public schools.

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