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Choosing success? Inequalities and opportunities in access to school choice in nine United States districts

Abstract

Bowles and Gintis (Bowles & Gintis, 1976) dubbed schools as both the testing grounds and battlegrounds where society seeks to achieve equality of opportunity. This statement cannot be more appropriate to describe the debate surrounding the school choice movement over the past three decades that is yet to be resolved, in a time where school districts face an increasing number of failing schools and a sustained growth in minority students assigned to underfunded, crowded schools. The present study utilizes a spatial approach to analyze the spatial accessibility of schools of choice and how it relates to the racial composition, performance and location of public schools across 9 of the largest school districts in the U.S. In addition, Geographically Weighted Regression –GWR- analysis is used to assess whether the relation between school choice accessibility and school characteristics vary across all public schools in the U.S. Results from the analysis point to the spatial variation of school choice accessibility, whereby for some districts more than others, a spatial mismatch between high quality schools of choice and failing public schools is evident. Attention should be paid to locating choice schools nearby disadvantaged neighborhoods served by underperforming schools, and monitoring and supporting existing and newly created schools of choice to ensure that the surprisingly high number of failing charter and magnet schools can be reduced. Local and disaggregated spatial analysis should inform the allocation of choice policies and complement standard regression analysis that can potentially masked variability across locations in single parameter estimates

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