Dis-location: School choice, residential segregation and educational inequality

Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that Louisiana’s voucher program contradicts federal desegregation orders resulted in a months-long courtroom fracas and a national debate on school segregation and equality of opportunity. With this and other disputes regarding school choice becoming increasingly heated, this recent paper by Gabriel Sahlgren, an author and academic at the UK-based Centre for Market Reform of Education, is timely indeed. In this international comparison, Sahlgren conducts a meta-analysis to draw lessons from predominantly European countries, including Sweden, Germany, and Denmark, for application in England, which introduced some school choice with the Education Reform Act of 1988. Sahlgren looked at both segregation (differences in enrollment between minority groups) and equity (differences in performance). He found that while choice had a mixed effect on school segregation, no evidence suggests that choice led to decreased equity. Several of the studies he overviewed, however, contained drawbacks in design, such as using proxies for variables or failing to control for funding discrepancies. Additionally, given the vastly variant histories and demographic makeups between nations, one must view any international comparisons with some skepticism. Nevertheless, the analysis contains several recommendations that deserve attention on our side of the pond. For example, Sahlgren proposes using lotteries as a tiebreak for oversubscribed schools and eliminating catchment zones altogether as means of lessening possible segregation. (Attorney General Holder: That sounds a lot like New Orleans to us.)

SOURCE: Gabriel H. Sahlgren, Dis-location: School choice, residential segregation and educational inequality (London: Centre for Market Reform of Education, 2013).

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