Myth: Educational choice programs exacerbate racial segregation

There are numerous myths concerning educational choice programs. But in order for parents and students to make well-informed education decisions, these myths must be debunked. Below is a second myth and reality on how education choice works taken from a report by the Institute for Justice. (You can read about another myth here.)

Myth: Educational choice programs exacerbate racial segregation.

Reality: Educational choice programs promote racial integration.

As a former teacher who primarily taught minority students, racial segregation is a concern to me. Public schools across America remain segregated by race and class, even though it has been more than 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” in Brown v. Board of Education. But educational choice programs have not exacerbated racial imbalance, and there are numerous examples of these programs improving integration.

As of 2016, there have been 10 empirical studies that have specifically examined the correlation between school choice and racial segregation in schools. EdChoice analyzed these studies and reported nine of them found school choice moves students into less racially segregated classrooms. The remaining study found school choice had no visible effect on racial segregation. None of the studies found data to support choice programs increase racial segregation.

“But what about the schools of choice that predominantly enroll students of one race?”

First, it is important to not characterize a school as segregated simply by relying on absolute numbers. (For instance, stating that a charter school where student enrollment is 90 percent black must be segregated. Or, stating a school must be segregated because its enrollment numbers don’t match the demographics of the neighborhood.) Instead, consider what areas are within reasonable commuting distances from the school and what their demographics are. If a nearby neighborhood is 90 percent black, and the school serves primarily black students, this affects a perceived racial imbalance.

Second, when speaking specifically about Minnesota, it is important to remember the state’s open enrollment options. Students and families can choose public schools outside of their neighborhoods—they are not forced to attend a school based on their zip code. This means families can send their children to a charter school, a magnet school, or the traditional public school. Parents can choose to send their children to a private or religious school, as well. Because parents have this choice, they are aware of the racial makeup of the school, which can lead certain families to select schools that serve students of the same background as their child.

The level of segregation that still plagues our public school system is a problem, but findings from numerous reports confirm educational choice programs are not making the problem worse and have even played a role in lessening segregation by race and class.