School Choice and Racial Integration Go Hand in Hand
October 10, 2006
Opponents of parental choice in education argue that school
choice increases racial segregation. But a new review of the
research evidence suggests that giving parents the freedom to
choose their children's schools has actually increased racial
More than fifty years have passed since Brown v. Board of
Education outlawed racial segregation in American public
schools. Many policies, including school busing, were implemented
to promote integration in public education in the decades that
followed. Yet many American public schools remain segregated along
Even with years of improvement in race relations, this result
shouldn't be a surprise. The public school system assigns students
to schools based on where they live, which means that a public
school is only as diverse as its community. The combination of
segregated housing patterns and location-based school assignment
has created an environment in which millions of children attend
largely segregated public schools.
But not all schools are stuck. In a new report from the Milton and Rose D. Friedman
Foundation, Dr. Greg Forster reviews the research on school
choice and integration and concludes that school choice improves
school diversity. He also explains why the "claims made by voucher
opponents [about racial segregation] are empirically unsupportable"
in two specific ways.
First, empirical research finds "no substantial difference between
segregation levels in public and private schools." Instead, "at the
classroom level, a preferable level of analysis, the research
indicates that private schools actually are less segregated than
public schools." And "even at the school level, the research finds
no substantial difference between public and private
Second, school voucher programs do not lead to segregation. In
fact, the opposite is true. In Milwaukee, Cleveland, and
Washington, D.C., voucher students' private schools are more
racially integrated than the public schools the students would
otherwise have attended.
Consider the Washington, D.C., opportunity scholarship program,
created by Congress in 2004. Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the
University of Arkansas found that voucher students' private schools
were more integrated than their peers' public schools. As Forester
explains, they found that "85 percent of public school students
attend racially homogenous schools (more than 90 percent white or
90 percent minority), compared to 47 percent of students in
participating private schools."
Forester's analysis is another reason to support policies that
give parents the ability to choose their children's schools. And
his conclusions are good reason to be optimistic about society's
progress on racial integration over the past fifty years. According
to the best research, school voucher programs in urban communities
lead to greater integration than the current public school system.
What the Supreme Court sought to accomplish more than a generation
ago with mandates on public education, today is happening through a
system of voluntary choice.
Dan Lips is an Education
Analyst at the Heritage Foundation www.Heritage.org.