Last week, I posted short summaries and links to news articles about the Betsy DeVos hearing. Ahead of the committee vote this Tuesday, I wanted to look at one major theme that runs across all the articles: long used as resistance to school integration, vouchers and other school choice policies have been linked to greater school segregation across the country.
Here’s the brief summary:
- Nationwide: A 2010 UCLA study found that across cities in 40 states and DC, 70% of black charter school students were in schools with 90-100% minority students, more than double for black students in traditional public schools (CityLab)
- Betsy DeVos’ Michigan: In the 2009-2010 school year, roughly 70% of students in the state’s school choice program moved to less diverse schools (Educational Opportunity Network)
- Pennsylvania: Black and latino/a students in charters attend more segregated schools than their peers in traditional public schools. (Christian Science Monitor)
- North Carolina: In 2015, Duke University researchers found that “North Carolina’s charter schools have become a way for white parents to secede from the public school system, as they once did to escape racial integration orders.” (Salon.com)
- Using the same research, CityLab lays this out in an interactive map: parents are using the charter system to send their children to schools that are no more than 20% black
- Milwaukee: University of Arkansas researchers found that vouchers had no impact on school integration. The researchers note that “the choices for families in low-income, minority-dominated school districts are often between low-performing public schools and alternatives such as charters or voucher-dependent private schools with similar student bodies.” (Christian Science Monitor)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul: CityLab’s original analysis found that “as of the 2014-2015 school year, nearly 70 percent of students of color at charter schools in the Twin Cities were in completely segregated environments, compared to less than 20 percent at traditional schools.”
- Louisiana: One exception – the state voucher program was determined to lead to a “marginal improvement” in school segregation – e.g., students moved from a 100% minority school to one that is 85% minority. (Christian Science Monitor)
Quoting a University of Chicago sociologist, the CityLab article argues that “The notion of ‘choice’ suggests that all options are on the table for all parents,” says Ewing, “but when resources like transportation, childcare, and information access are unequally distributed, the choices on the table are in fact very constrained.” This helps to explain outcomes of research in Cleveland, which found that nonwhite students are less likely to use vouchers than their white and wealthier counterparts.
Makes sense: if parents can’t get their children to new schools or aren’t able to do the research on where to send their children, then the vouchers don’t really mean anything. Other major obstacles to integration: private schools can easily pick or exclude students “based on academics, behavior, or even religion or sexuality” or disability, few states require charters to desegregate, and vouchers may not be enough to subsidize the cost of private schools for low-income families. Especially for the latter reason, vouchers contributed to the decimation of public education in Pinochet’s Chile, enabling many to leave the public school system. Not a great model for the US.
(If you only have time to read one of the articles linked here, check out this overview of Chile’s disastrous voucher experiment.)
Without at least some consideration of the above, it’s hard to disagree with this conclusion from the Salon.com article:
“At a certain point, it’s time to stop pretending that these poor outcomes are an accident and start to consider the possibility that excluding low-income and minority students is largely the point.”
Vouchers were a key part of a 1950’s school integration resistance effort in Virginia, simply called Massive Resistance, that was eventually declared unconstitutional. Many states used similar strategies to avoid integration. Regardless of one’s motivations for promoting vouchers, it’s hard to ignore that this is the history they’re located in. And, given the evidence that forms of this history persist in 2017, it just shouldn’t be possible for proponents (again, regardless of motivation) to defend vouchers without responding to concerns about school resegregation.