I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, May 6, 2016

School Vouchers Are Not a Cure For Segregation: Part II

Here are links to all five parts of the series:

Part I

Part II

Part III : New Orleans

Part IV: Milwaukee

PartV: Washington DC and Conclusion

* * *

In Part I of this series, I point out that -- contrary to the implications of those who vouch for school vouchers -- America's private schools are highly segregated. Which means that using public monies to pay for private school tuition isn't likely to help desegregate America's already segregated public schools. To the contrary, vouchers will likely make segregation worse.

The analysis I did in Part I parallels a report by Steve Suitts for the Southern Education Foundation that shows America's private schools, particularly in the South, are overwhelmingly white. It's a good report, but somewhat limited, because the frame of reference is an entire state. That's a very wide area that likely contains multiple regions with their own demographic differences. 

If, for example, a state has one region with a large concentration of private schools but few black children, it would hardly be fair to say that those schools were segregating compared to their neighbors. But if we aggregate the data at the state level so we included distant regions with many black students, we might conclude these schools were, in fact, segregating. What can we do?

One solution is to bring our analysis down to a more local level -- but it can't be too local. If it is, we won't see the phenomenon of segregated communities of different races that are still geographically close to each other -- something that happens in America more than many would like to admit.

For our purposes, I suggest counties are a decent choice: larger than towns or small cities, but smaller than states or (in many cases) core-based statistical areas. Let's take a look at a few counties in the South that contain relatively large cities and see what their private school populations look like.

We'll start with the counties containing Atlanta, GA:

Again: the red lines represent the percentage of black children (under 18) in each county. Each "bin" -- the gold bars that run across the horizontal axis -- represents the proportion of private school students in area attending a school that is 0-10% black, 10-20% black, and so on. The highest bar in both counties is 0-10%, meaning the majority of private school students attend a school that has between 0 and 10 percent black students. In sum:

The vast majority of Atlanta area private schools look nothing like the racial profile of the entire area. 

Again, I won't pretend that Atlanta's public schools are desegregated -- they aren't. But the notion that  expanding a system of school vouchers would somehow lead to less segregation flies in the face of this data.

Notice how -- particularly in DeKalb -- there are a significant number of private school students enrolled in schools that are 90 percent or more black. Does it help to desegregate schools if the black students who use vouchers wind up going to schools like these?

I don't mean to imply these are "bad" schools; honestly, I have no idea. In the absence of other evidence, I am happy to assume, as I always do, that these schools are full of hard-working educators doing their best for their students (of course, I can be rather naive about these things...).

But isn't it clear that "choice" advocates like Kevin Chavous are just wrong when they say things like this?
There is no denying history and the motives of some parents and politicians 50 years ago, who feared desegregation and were racially motivated to send their children to private schools. However, the history of 50 years ago doesn’t align with the reality of today. Private school choice programs now exist in 25 states and Washington, D.C. Through vouchers, tax credit scholarships, and Education Savings Account programs, nearly 400,000 children are accessing a private school of their parents' choice. Today’s system is color blind and largely benefits minority families. [emphasis mine]
"Color blind"? Really? Here's the histogram for Duval County in Florida, the greater Jacksonville area:

Again: a significant majority of the private schools have student populations that are less than 10 percent black, even though 36.6 percent of all of Duval's under-18 population is black. Here's Richland County, South Carolina, home of the state capital:

Again: the vast majority of private schools have a black population well below that of the entire region. Mecklenburg County, NC, the Charlotte area:

Wake County, NC, the Raleigh area:

Getting the picture? Southern private schools have far fewer black students proportionally than the regions where they are located.

Let's look at one more area in the South: New Orleans, LA.

Not only do we have many private schools with small proportions of black students; as in DeKalb, GA, there are also a significant number of schools that enroll a black population of more than 90 percent. But very few Orleans Parish* private schools could ever be called integrated.

I saved this one for last because of a report that has made the rounds claiming that school vouchers have helped desegregate NOLA's schools. Hmm... does this look "color blind" to you?

More on that report in the next part -- and we journey to Milwaukee, the mecca of school vouchers, to ask if their long-standing voucher system has actually led to desegregation.

Stand by...

Color blind?

* Yes, I know it's a parish, not a county. I tried to explain that to the computer, but it's stubborn...

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