[Journals]: Colorblind School Choice Policies Blindly Promote Segregation

A new study of white New York City parents examines the motivations that drive school choice—and limit diversity in public education

Contact: Rachel Wiseman / 773-834-1793 / rwiseman@press.uchicago.edu
Source Contact: Allison Roda / akr2107@tc.columbia.edu



When asked if they would like their kids to attend a diverse school, most parents would say yes. But in practice, segregation persists in public education and, in many cases, urban schools are more divided than ever. When given the choice, despite their good intentions, white, privileged parents often opt for predominantly white, privileged schools and programs for their children.


A forthcoming study from the American Journal of Education tackles this contradiction in parents’ sentiments and the decisions they make about schools.


A growing body of research has shown that when school choice policies are not expressly designed to integrate schools, they actually result in greater stratification and separation of students by race and ethnicity across schools and programs. In other words, market-based school choice policies that purport to be “colorblind” ultimately lead to more segregation by class and color.


The authors of this study, Allison Roda and Amy Stuart Wells from Teachers College at Columbia University, conducted a series of interviews with advantaged parents living in one school district in New York City. They found that many are bothered by segregation, but are more concerned that their children gain access to the “best” schools—which are in this district, as in most, predominantly white.


Privileged parents acknowledge the benefits of racially diverse schools in preparing their children for a global society, but in a highly competitive and increasingly unequal educational system, they often feel the stakes are too high to risk sending their children to the less coveted, lower status schools. Their social networks (consisting of other parents of similar means) create an echo chamber for these anxieties. As a result, advantaged, mostly white parents are pushed to make choices that they think protect their privilege. These factors perpetuate the cycle of social reproduction and resegregation, wherein schools enrolling the most students from affluent white families are automatically considered “better”—and therefore attract more students from advantaged backgrounds.


It doesn’t have to be this way, the authors argue. Roda and Wells identify several potential points of intervention that policymakers can act on to break the vicious circle of segregation in school choice–driven educational systems. By creating more viable, racially diverse and undivided (minus the separate and unequal gifted and talented programs) schools, policymakers can keep more advantaged families in the public education system. In this way, smart, race-conscious school choice policies will benefit students of all backgrounds and the system as a whole.





Roda, Allison and Amy Stuart Wells. “School Choice Policies and Racial Segregation: Where White Parents’ Good Intentions, Anxiety, and Privilege Collide.” American Journal of Education 119:2. February 2013.



The American Journal of Education is a leading source of scholarship on education that bridges the intellectual, methodological, and substantive diversity of perspectives in the field. AJE publishes research, theoretical statements, philosophical arguments, and critical syntheses of a field of educational inquiry. The journal is published by the University of Chicago Press and sponsored by the Penn State College of Education. For more information, please see our website: journals.uchicago.edu/AJE




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