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The Effects of Public School Choice on Those Left Behind: Evidencefrom Durham, North Carolina

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations - Vol. 84, No. 2

Robert Bifulco, University of Connecticut
Helen F. Ladd, Duke University
Stephen Ross, University of Connecticut

Using student-level data from Durham, North Carolina, we examine the potential impact of school choice programs on the peer environments of students who remain in their geographically assigned schools. We examine whether the likelihood of opting out of one's geographically assigned school differs across groups and compare the actual peer composition in neighborhood schools to what the peer composition in those schools would be under a counterfactual scenario in which all students attend their geographically assigned schools. We find that many advantaged students have used school choice programs in Durham to opt out of assigned schools with concentrations of disadvantaged students and to attend schools with higher achieving students. Comparisons of actual peer compositions with the counterfactual scenario indicate only small differences in peer composition for non-choosers on average. More substantial differences in peer environment emerge, however, for students in schools with concentrations of disadvantaged students and schools located near choice schools attractive to high achievers. The results suggest that expansions of parental choice may have significant adverse effects on the peer environments of a particularly vulnerable group of students.

Robert Bifulco is an Associate Professor of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. His research has focused on education policy including measuring school performance, whole-school reform, educational resource disparities, and charter schools. His most recent research examines the effects of school choice on racial segregation and the effects of racial segregation on student outcomes.

Helen F. Ladd is the Edgar Thompson Professor of Public Policy Studies and Professor of economics at Duke University. Most of her current research focuses on education policy. She has written and edited several books on education finance and policy, and has written recent articles on charter schools, school-based accountability, market-based reforms in education, parental choice and competition, the effects of HUD's Moving to Opportunity Program on educational opportunities and outcomes, and a series of papers on teacher quality and student achievement.

Stephen Ross is Professor of economics at the University of Connecticut. Professor Ross has conducted extensive research in the areas of housing and mortgage lending discrimination, residential and school segregation, and neighborhood effects in urban labor markets. He has published extensively in prestigious academic journals including the Journal of Political Economy, Review of Economics and Statistics, The Economic Journal, Social Problems, and the Journal of Urban Economics.