School Diversity and the School Choice Ecosystem: Mixed Methods Evidence from Pennsylvania
AdvisorCordes, Sarah A.
Cucchiara, Maia Bloomfield
Committee memberFergus, Edward, 1974-
Goyette, Kimberly A.
DepartmentPolicy, Organizational and Leadership Studies
Permanent link to this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12613/8060
MetadataShow full item record
AbstractIn the United States, students’ schooling experiences are shaped by racial and socioeconomic segregation, which is a powerful predictor of educational inequity. School choice has been touted as a remedy to school segregation and has been used widely in desegregation plans. To understand whether and how America’s expanding system of voluntary public school choice can support diversity, this sequential explanatory mixed-methods study explores how five public school choice programs—inter-district enrollment, intra-district enrollment, magnet schools, cyber charter schools, and brick and mortar charter schools—shape the composition of public schools in Pennsylvania. The quantitative phase uses seven years of student level data from Pennsylvania to examine how school choice participation influences neighborhood and choice school diversity and how school characteristics, including diversity, choice type, and specialty theme, are related to families’ school enrollment decisions. I find that school choice slightly exacerbates racial and socioeconomic segregation in urban communities, while suburban schools of choice are much more diverse than neighborhood schools. I also explore the transfer decisions of students in choice-rich environments: those with access to schools with a variety of demographic profiles, choice types, and specialty themes, and so whose choices are less constrained by supply. I find that that higher income families’ preferences for low poverty schools and divergent racial/ethnic preferences among Black and White families put segregating pressure on school systems. At the same time, the broad appeal of zoned schools and high schools with specialty themes represent promising strategies to promote school diversity in the context of school choice. The qualitative phase extends and explains quantitative findings with a comparative case study of two choice-rich city school districts. In Albertville City Schools, choice appeared to be exacerbating segregation while in Bedford Public Schools, neighborhood schools saw increasing diversity. In these two communities, school and district leaders felt competition from school choice and changed practices in response to that pressure. Bedford competed with a robust neighborhood school recruitment program which likely produced increases in diversity because of their diverse local population. While Bedford Public Schools had success attaining numeric diversity, they relied on diversity ideology—an organizational philosophy that celebrates diversity while maintaining internal systems of oppression. Diversity ideology prevented Bedford’s leaders from overturning existing hierarchies and so internal opportunity and achievement gaps persisted. In Albertville, no robust recruitment program emerged, in large part due to capacity and financial constraints. So while choice participation leveled off in Bedford, it continued to grow in Albertville, which may have exposed Albertville zoned schools to increasing segregating pressure from school choice. Though opportunities for numeric diversity were fewer in Albertville, leaders tended to reject diversity ideology and instead, recognize that school choice participation is driven by racialized and classed opportunity gaps. Albertville school and district leaders sought to compete by closing these gaps and increasing equity. Some schools located in Albertville competed by establishing homogeneous, affirming schools and others pursued holistic integration, though the scale of these efforts was limited. These cases illustrate that while local school choice practices can shape school diversity, leaders’ philosophies are critical determinants of whether or not numeric diversity provides a foundation for equitable, integrated schools.
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