School & District Management

Study Finds Interdistrict Choice Closing Achievement Gap

November 13, 2009 1 min read
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Is the solution to closing the achievement gap in the suburbs?

Judging from the findings of this new study by Columbia University researchers, the answer is yes.

After examining the nation’s eight remaining desegregation programs that enable disadvantaged students to cross school district boundary lines to attend more-affluent, suburban public schools, the researchers conclude that the programs are “far more successful than recent choice and accountability policies at closing the achievement gap and offering meaningful school choices.”

It’s a fascinating conclusion that runs counter to most of the methods and strategies at work in public education right now to close the achievement gap. The authors acknowledge that the programs--in Boston, East Palo Alto, Calif., Hartford, Conn., Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Rochester, N.Y., and St. Louis--are “out of sync” with current practice. Except for the program in Minneapolis, all have been in place for at least two decades, and all the programs stem from court rulings and legislation meant to create equitable educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.

The research team, led by Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, will present its findings today at a conference at Howard University in Washington. The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, based at Harvard Law School, convened the conference and is using the study’s findings to call for restoring “a desegregation focus to U.S. education policy.”

The authors also conclude that the desegregation programs have improved racial attitudes in the mostly white suburban communities where the urban kids attend school.

So, should we be talking as much about letting poor students in failing urban schools transfer to high-performing suburban campuses, as we do about creating more charter schools and other alternatives for them in their neighborhoods?

Take a look at the study and the specific findings for each city, then let us know what you think.

RELATED: Check out Russo’s earlier post here on the proposed new student assignment plan in Chicago’s magnet schools, which would use socioeconomic factors as a way to make schools more diverse.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

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