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Volume 11, Number 3
May/June 1995

Despite the Promises, School Choice Can Worsen Racial and Social Class Inequities


The magnet school program in Montgomery County, Maryland, is flourishing. Begun in 1977 to further racial integration and serve a diverse student population, the program today involves almost 20 elementary and secondary schools and enrolls more than 10,000 students. Individual programs focus on computer literacy, French immersion, physically handicapped students, and the "gifted and talented."

Yet most Montgomery County parents who choose magnet schools are not motivated primarily by the school's curriculum. Nor are their preferences likely to advance integration. Instead, parents seek schools where the students' families make about the same amount of money they do, and where the kids match their own color or ethnicity.

In Milwaukee, grassroots efforts in the late 1980s led to the creation of a voucher program to allow low-income public school students to attend private schools, like the popular Urban Day School. Such schools receive about $2,000 in public funds for each voucher student. Parents who use these vouchers are enthusiastic about the program. So are the private schools, for whom vouchers have been a financial boon.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

R. Elmore. "Choice as an Instrument of Public Policy." In W. Clune and J. Witte (eds.), Choice and Control in American Education. New York: Falmer Press, 1990.

J. Henig. Rethinking School Choice: Limits of the Market Metaphor. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

S. Holloway and B. Fuller. "The Great Child-Care Experiment: What Are the Lessons for School Improvement?" Educational Researcher 21, no. 7 (October 1992): 12-19.

"A Matter of Choice." Special report by the editors of Education Week. Washington, DC: Editorial Projects in Education, December 16, 1992.

E. Rasell and R. Rothstein, eds. School Choice: Examining the Evidence. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute, 1993. Contains papers given at 1992 conference by Witte, Wells, Lee, M. Driscoll, M. Fine, J. Chubb, T. Moe, and others.

A. Wells. Time to Choose: America at the Crossroads of School Choice Policy. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.