Professors Salvatore Saporito and Deenesh Sohoni of the sociology department at William & Mary are using high-tech geographic information system (GIS) technology to examine the racial composition of public schools in 22 large urban districts. The GIS approach allowed the researchers to correlate each school's area of service with U.S. Census Bureau data on the racial and ethnic mix of children living in the same area. They then compared that information to the actual enrollment statistics for schools to see if the racial mix of the public schools matched that of the neighborhoods they served.
In a provocatively titled article for Ideation magazine called "School Choice Increases School Segregation", Drs. Saporito and Sohoni conclude that public schools have fewer white children enrolled than would be expected given the demographics of their neighborhood, particularly when neighborhoods are mostly integrated. Public schools with private, parochial, and/or magnet schools within their boundaries have an even greater underrepresentation of white children than public schools without nearby private, parochial, or magnet schools.
The William & Mary researchers found that in neighborhoods without a private, parochial, or magnet school, there was an approximately 10% gap between the number of white children in the population and enrolled in the public school. Having a single private, parochial, or magnet school in the neighborhood increased this difference to 12%. Having four increased the difference to 20%.
Drs. Saporito and Sohoni use their data to argue that "school choice increases racial segregation". The problem with this argument is that not all parents are equally free to choose their children's school! Only those who have the disposable income to pay private or parochial school tuition have true educational choice. This is where a voucher program for low-to-moderate income families would really help. It would allow poor families (who are disproportionately minority) the same freedom to choose private or parochial schools as their wealthier neighbors. In places where vouchers have been made available such as Milwaukee and Cleveland there have been tremendous benefits for minority students.
Economists David Figlio and Joe Stone of the University of Oregon have shown that attending a Catholic school has significant positive benefits for blacks and Hispanics— especially for those living in urban areas — even after controlling for confounding factors such as family income, marital status, and the mother's education level. The dropout rate is cut by almost 75%. Graduates are 3 times as likely to earn a college degree. Poor minority students score almost 150 points higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress than their counterparts in public schools.
The reason for segregation in our schools isn't school choice but rather a LACK of choice for many minority students.