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Report: Where Parents Have More Choice, Schools Appear To Become More Segregated

A bus idles outside a Boston school. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A bus idles outside a Boston school. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A new study out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education Wednesday finds that a majority of parents across the country say they’d prefer to send their children to integrated schools.

But researchers at the school’s Making Caring Common project have found that when families are given control over which schools to send their children to, they make choices that perpetuate school segregation.

WBUR’s Bob Oakes spoke to the report’s co-authors, senior lecturer Richard Weissbourd and Ph.D. student Eric Torres, about their findings.

Interview Highlights

On why wealthy parents are choosing racially and economically segregated schools

Richard Weissbourd: It looks like there a number of different things that are going on here. One is, (families) are making judgments about school quality … but they’re basing those judgments often on poor data, on average test scores at a school, which is not a good indicator of school quality. And sometimes all kinds of biases can get in the way too. It looks like, from other research, that white advantaged parents often make decisions based on the number of other white advantaged parents at a school, not based on any real research about school safety or school quality or these kinds of important indicators.

On what the research says about integrated schools

RW: What our data is suggesting — and what a lot of data suggests — is that integration is good for your own kids, it’s good for other people’s kids and it’s critical for the country as a whole and it’s critical for a thriving democracy.

On how parents can better assess school quality

Eric Torres: (School quality) is a fuzzy metric for a lot of parents. And this is how these biases are able to seep in … many times parents use stand-ins for quality, like the number of white affluent students at a school, instead of thinking more deeply about the kinds of learning and growing that are going on. It’s difficult to wrap your head around what it means to be a high-quality school, and that’s why we encourage parents to visit, to speak with people who are there, to speak with the teachers and to look at all the available data in order to develop a more holistic sense of a place, rather than relying on these maybe superficial notions.

Editor’s note: The headline of this story has been updated. A previous version misrepresented the connection between parent choice and school segregation as described in this research. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 WBUR

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