Are Choice Schools Creating Ethnic Segration? Shouldn't We Care?
Original post made by Fred, Barron Park, on Mar 25, 2007
Compare elementary school averages (no weighting for enrollment, sorry, just mean average of each schools %'s):
PAUSD: 24% Asian, 10% Hispanic, 59% White, 16% other/NR
Hoover: 57% Asian, 4% Hispanic, 22% White, 17% other/NR
Ohlone: 13% Asian, 4% Hispanic, 59% White, 25% other/NR
Escondido: 18% Asian, 15% Hispanic, 48% White, 19% other/NR
Source for all are school SARCs, available on the PAUSD web site here: Web Link
Palo Alto Unified School District - Community - About PAUSD - School Accountability Report Cards (SARC)
The Ohlone numbers are a little hard to interpret, since they have more in the "multiple or no response" category - but it appears they have materially fewer Asians and Hispanics (17% vs. 34% or about half the average). The Hoover numbers show 2.4x the number of Asians, with less than half the average of Whites or Hispanics.
Escondido is harder to guage - others may know the pure SI composition already. Compared to the average, though, it has 1.5x the number of Hispanics (15% vs. 10%) and somewhat fewer Whites and Asians. Compared to its neighbor, Nixon, it has 3x the Hispanics (15% vs. 5%).
So it appears that given "choice," parents self-select into more ethically segregated schools. This concerns me. One of the things I like most about the US, California, Palo Alto, and Barron Park's own Briones school, is the level of ethnic (and other) diversity they achieve. When we look at the benefits of public education, this mixing is one of our great public goods. A very happy moment for me was attending Briones graduation a couple years ago and being welcomed in each of the 17 languages spoken by the students there.
So if choice erodes this good, that's a concern. Especially since the erosion is both for those who chose a special program, and for those who stay behind. If groups congregate at choice schools, by definition, those left behind have a less diverse school class as well. And of course, once established, this segregation can be self-reinforcing (a la neighborhood tipping points).
Paradoxically, at least some of the history of "choice" or "magnet" programs was to achieve DE-segragation. I attended such a elementary school myself. And I believe the SI program was created, in part, to attract students to a school with excess capacity. But in fact, we are now allowing parents to choose a more segregated environment.
This of course may reflect on the Mandarin Immersion program, perhaps again under consideration. Would such a program disproportionately attract Asians? Does it require Mandarin speaking students, almost all of whom I would presume would be Asian? (I'm not baiting here, please speak up if you know the answers on those.) If the applicants to the school (and hence the students) were in fact disproportionately Asian, would that be ok?
I don't know how important the teaching differences are at the choice schools, to parents or the community. I'm sure they each have their strong advocates. But enabling K-5 ethnic segregation, feeding into the clique-ishness of middle school and high school, seems like an important factor to weigh against those preferences, both for existing and any proposed choice programs. Note that even a charter school must show "its means for achieving racial and ethnic balance reflective of the general population residing in the district" (source: Charter School FAQs, CA Dept. of Education). Don't we want at least that from our regular public schools?