School Choice and Segregation: Evidence From New Orleans
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos claims that school choice programs lead to more integrated schools. But does the evidence back her up? In general, research on both charter- and voucher-based school choice has found that these programs are more likely to lead to small increases in segregation than to improve integration. These results are not entirely surprising, given research on parents’ preferences showing that families tend to choose schools with students from similar backgrounds.
In a study released last month by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, we tested these effects at scale by examining the impact of the New Orleans school reforms on segregation. Following Hurricane Katrina, the state took over the vast majority of the city’s schools and began the process of turning all schools over to charter management organizations. By 2014, 86 percent of New Orleans students were in charter schools, and all schools in the city — including those directly run by the local school board — accepted students from anywhere within the city limits, creating the only all-choice school system in the country. Prior research has found that these unprecedented reforms substantially increased student achievement, but critics still have concerns about the unintended consequences of this system.