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Reaction to study linking freedom of school choice to racial segregation

Research published in PNAS shows how, in a sample of more than 1,600 racially diverse (black and white) parents in the United States, freedom of school choice, regardless of the presence of students of other ethnicities, also increases segregation. The authors attribute this to different preferences between black parents, who favour higher school ratings, and white parents, who prefer proximity to the school.

22/08/2022 - 21:00 CEST
Expert reactions

Cynthia Martínez - segregación EN

Cynthia Martínez Garrido

Professor of Research Methods in Education at the Autonomous University of Madrid

Science Media Centre Spain

The article focuses on two problems currently affecting the Spanish education system. On the one hand, segregation by national origin, i.e. the existence of schools for natives and schools for immigrants, which is a reality in our society and is only increasing. In Spain, segregation by national origin is 0.44 (value estimated through the Gorard index), which is only slightly lower than the European Union average (0.50), higher than in neighbouring countries - Portugal (0.43), Italy (0.42) and Spain (0.43), 43), Italy (0.42), Belgium (0.42), Greece (0.41), Sweden (0.40), Germany (0.39) or Ireland (0.30) - but is still lower than others such as France (0.45), the Netherlands (0.48) or Finland (0.50). These figures show that the Spanish education system's failure to avoid segregation of immigrant students is common to all other European countries.  

On the other hand, it shows how the misnamed freedom of school choice (single school district) brings nothing but negative consequences, including an increase in segregation. Recent studies confirm that the criteria for school choice most valued by Spanish families are proximity to the school and the fact that the school has a certain degree of recognition among the people in the surrounding area. However, the emergence of the single school district in combination with other policies, such as the bilingual programmes implemented in several autonomous communities, has meant that families' choice criteria have been altered, leading to the polarisation of society: families who can afford all the economic and cultural resources necessary to support their children's education so that they can attend compulsory education in English and those who cannot. 

This is undoubtedly an interesting study and one that, if it is to be replicated in Spain, should consider the very high ratio that is maintained in public schools, which the way in which points are distributed to distribute public school places among students (through the Boston Mechanism) is causing an increase in the segregation of students, that the live enrolment (extraordinary period schooling) affects mostly the most complex centres and that our 17 autonomous communities have autonomy in Education, so we cannot speak of a single education system but of 17 coexisting at the same time. 

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
School choice increases racial segregation even when parents do not care about race
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