Michigan’s school choice is resulting in school segregation

For decades, research has been clear that the second most powerful driver of student achievement—behind parental income—is the socioeconomic status of a student’s school. Creating socioeconomically integrated schools should be a top priority of anyone looking to improve the performance of Michigan’s schools, which, by the way, need some improvement (as a quick example: we’re 41st in the nation in 3rd grade reading achievement).

And yet, recent research shows that Michigan’s school choice regime has exacerbated school segregation.

Comprehensive reporting by Bridge released two weeks ago paints a bleak picture of how schools have become more segregated over the last two decades. Particularly troubling is the rise of “majority-minority schools,” where non-white students are concentrated—and often so is poverty.

Researchers from Wayne State, looking at Census and school enrollment data, found that:

10 school districts that took in the highest number of Detroit students since school choice began saw hundreds of local students leave their districts. And those who left moved to schools with a higher percentage of white students.

The phenomenon that appears to be happening is this: White students who live in diverse communities are using school choice to move to whiter school districts. In schools in diverse communities where the black student population is growing (due to black families from neighboring districts using school choice), white students are also leaving for whiter districts. Schools that are majority-minority are the most likely to have a demographic mismatch with their community—the white students who live there are more likely to be attending school elsewhere.

Michigan continues to struggle with its transition to the 21st century economy, where economic growth follows the presence of college-degree holders. If we do not figure out how to prepare our own kids for the future—and the only way we can do this sufficiently is by educating them to be ready for college—as a state, we will flounder. (Bonus: it’s the ethical thing to do!)

In the future, we at MFI intend to examine and share research that examines whether charters and school choice can, instead of fostering segregation, create integrated schools. For now, it is clear that Michigan’s current system does not.

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