Home > Uncategorized > Given the Choice, White Parents Seek Schools Serving Affluent Children… Who Are Mostly White

Given the Choice, White Parents Seek Schools Serving Affluent Children… Who Are Mostly White

August 16, 2016

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday based on a blog post written by Durham NC educator Rita Rathbone for Education Post, a site that is generally favorable toward charter schools. In the post, Dr. Rathbone describes how charter schools in Durham have desegregated schools over the past decade. Noting that “… researchers at Duke University have pointed out that 20 percent of all charter schools in the state are 90 percent or more White”, Dr. Rathbone provides hard evidence that given the choice, white parents prefer enrolling their children in schools that are predominantly white. The result is that when school choice is introduced schools tend to resegregate. She writes:

Both research and anecdotal evidence tells us that White parents prefer schools where their child will be in the majority, often as a more important factor than school quality. Research by Helen Ladd at Duke University on White parents in the state found that a 20 percent Black population was the threshold that White parents preferred.

In Durham, a district of roughly 45,000 students that is 82% African American, the charter schools have attracted 1200 White students. In her concluding paragraphs Dr. Rathbone describes the challenges the region faces in trying to maintain some semblance of racial and economic justice:

While each student who leaves the district for a charter school takes with them their per-pupil spending, the district has been left with students who are more expensive to educate. In a district with a 30 percent child poverty rate, Durham Public Schools now has a 65 percent free- and reduced-lunch rate as well as higher concentrations of students with disabilities and English-language learners.

In a vicious, self-fulfilling cycle, the exodus of White and middle-class families may cause the district schools to look more like those very schools those families want to avoid. Concentrated poverty and disadvantaged students have impacted school test data and the district faces greater testing pressures.

The future holds even more uncertainty. While area charters still claim long waitlists, insiders express concerns of a charter market over saturation with some new charters failing to meet enrollment goals and charters investing more time and money into recruitment efforts. Area charter teachers also quietly express concern about practices of grade inflation and lack of rigor as charter schools try to keep students and families satisfied.

The intersection of race and school choice is complex. Given the known benefits of school integration for all students, it is time to consider policy approaches that ensure that school choice leads to more integration rather than contributing to more racial and economic isolation in our public schools.

And this accurately describes the conundrum of school choice. Given the choice, White parents and affluent parents want their children to attend schools that educate children like theirs… and this leads to a situation where the children of less engaged and less affluent parents are left behind to struggle in under-resourced schools. If those schools have more resources they might be able to attract and/or retain more white and affluent children… but until more resources are available we will never know… and more resources for public schools, especially in NC, are unlikely in the near future.

  1. Elyssa
    August 16, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Maybe I am the rare white parent who wants my child in an economically & ethnically diverse school… I credit you for that. When we moved from a diverse school in Philly to rural Maine, I was so confused about the racial composition of my class. As a parent of a kid in NYC DOE, I feel strongly that public schools should represent the rich diversity of the city and want to avoid any segregation.

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