Students in the Boulder Valley, Colo., district are becoming more racially and academically stratified as a result of the district’s open-enrollment policies, a study concludes.
Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder said the Boulder Valley schools’ public-school-choice program provides a prime laboratory for study because it touches every school in the system. One-fifth of the district’s 27,500 students take part in the program, which surged in popularity around 1995.
Since then, the researchers found, students have migrated from schools with lower test scores to higher-scoring ones and from schools with high minority populations to mostly white schools. As a result, the number of elementary schools where fewer than half the students are white went from one in 1994 to five last year.
“They’re choosing from a lottery, so it’s not that schools are ‘creaming’ from the pool,” said Kenneth R. Howe, an education professor at the university. He conducted the study with fellow education professor Margaret A. Eisenhart. “It’s that the pool itself is composed of very atypical students.”
As a result, some schools have become weaker, while others have grown stronger. Left with needier students and less funding as a result of lost enrollment, the weakest schools have entered “a spiral of decline” as their enrollments dwindle, the researchers say.
The district’s overall achievement scores, though, have not improved much—contrary to some predictions.
Still, most parents interviewed expressed satisfaction with their children’s schools.
“I think we all feel like it’s a study that needed to be done,” said Judy Stout, the district’s director of elementary education. The study was conducted at the district’s request with backing from the Spencer Foundation in Chicago.
“There have been issues around open enrollment in the community for years, and to have somebody from the outside come and gather information and give information back is very helpful,” Ms. Stout added.
— Debra Viadero
A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2000 edition of Education Week as In Short