School Choice & Charters Opinion

School Choice and Segregation: Evidence From New Orleans

By Urban Education Contributor — April 10, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This week we are hearing from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (ERA New Orleans). Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective on this research.

This post is by Lindsay Bell Weixler and Nathan Barrett, Associate Directors of and Senior Research Fellows at ERA New Orleans, Douglas N. Harris (@douglasnharris), Professor of Economics at Tulane University and Director of ERA New Orleans, and Jennifer Jennings, Associate Professor of Sociology at New York University.

Evidence shows that the post-Katrina school reforms, which created a citywide school choice system dominated by charters, have led to large gains in student achievement. However, critics of the charter movement worry about unintended consequences, including the impact on traditional public schools, educational equity, and school segregation.

Prior research finds that charter schools are more concentrated by race and income than nearby traditional public schools. Research on parents’ preferences also finds that families tend to choose schools with students from similar backgrounds. Taken together, these findings highlight potential concerns that school choice at scale, as in New Orleans, could lead to worsening segregation in an already segregated system.

In a study released last week by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, we examined the effect of the New Orleans school reforms on segregation, answering the following research questions:

  1. Did the reforms affect segregation by race, income, achievement special education designation, and English Language Learner status?
  2. Did changes in segregation differ for elementary and high school students?

Our team analyzed changes in segregation using two measures: unevenness and isolation. Unevenness measures how perfectly each school’s population mirrors the district population, while isolation measures the typical concentration of a student’s own group in the schools they attend. We then compared the changes in New Orleans to changes over the same time period in two comparison groups to isolate the effects of the reforms from state and national trends.

Overall, our results showed small, mixed effects. At the elementary level, we found minimal effects on segregation across demographics, apart from a decrease in segregation for Asian students. However, segregation levels in high schools changed in a number of ways:

  • Black, Hispanic, and low-income high school students are more segregated after the reforms.
  • Special education high school students became somewhat less segregated, while English Language Learners are more segregated now than they would have been in the absence of the reforms.
  • Segregation by achievement declined, as both high- and low-performing high school students in ELA and math were more evenly distributed across schools after the reforms.

Though we did not find that citywide school choice led to consistent increases in segregation, as prior research might suggest, increased choice does not appear to be a broad solution to the persistent problem of school segregation. That said, choice-based systems do offer distinctive possibilities. For example, some New Orleans charter elementary schools have sought to deliberately increase the diversity of their student populations using a number of strategies, including specific curricular approaches and mixed-income pre-K programs.

With growing evidence of increased inequality in income and wealth nationwide, it is important to consider segregation of schools as a potential cause and effect of those trends. Our results for New Orleans confirm the broader national pattern that very few school systems--whether traditional or those with choice-based reforms--have had much success in integrating schools, suggesting that segregation will likely remain an issue for New Orleans and other cities around the country for years to come.

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Virtual Charters in Hot Water Again. Accusations of Fraud Prompt $150M Lawsuit
Indiana officials seek to recoup more than $150 million they say was either wrongly obtained or misspent by a consortium of virtual schools.
Arika Herron, The Indianapolis Star
2 min read
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. Rokita filed a lawsuit against a group of online charter schools accused of defrauding the state out of millions of dollars Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
School Choice & Charters How the Pandemic Helped Fuel the Private School Choice Movement
State lawmakers got a new talking point as they pushed to create and expand programs to send students to private schools.
8 min read
Collage showing two boys in classroom during pandemic wearing masks with cropped photo of feet and arrows going in different directions.
Collage by Gina Tomko/EducationWeek (Images: Getty)
School Choice & Charters Opinion Taking Stock After 30 Years of Charter Schools
Rick Hess speaks with Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, on charter schools turning 30.
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty