Freedom From Racial Barriers: The Empirical Evidence on Vouchers and Segregation

Greg Forster
Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation
October 2006

Among the most damaging charges leveled against private schools--and against states using public funds to create vouchers that give more students access to them--is that they are more racially isolated (i.e. homogeneous) than public schools. The Milton and Rose Freidman Foundation, among the staunchest of voucher advocacy groups, has addressed that allegation with this report by Greg Forster. He finds not only that it's untrue, but that "segregation levels in private schools are not substantially different from those in public schools at the school level; that private schools are actually less segregated than public schools at the classroom level; and that private schools participating in voucher programs are much less segregated than public schools." Forster blames faulty methodology in previous segregation studies for leading people to believe otherwise. Many such studies, he contends, use the racial make up of administrative units such as school districts or private school systems as "the standard against which segregation in individual schools is measured." This method fails, however, because it masks segregation caused by and within the administrative unit itself. If, for example, the racial make up of a suburban district is 98 percent white and the school being measured is 98 percent white, the school is officially "integrated." But nobody believes it's actually integrated. Instead, Forster writes, segregation should be measured against the racial make up of the larger metropolitan unit in which a school operates. When this method is deployed, Forster finds, private schools that accept vouchers are actually less segregated than public schools, mainly because they can draw from a broader pool of students. "Private schools have a much greater potential to desegregate students," concludes the report, "because they break down geographic barriers, drawing students together across neighborhood boundaries in a way the government school monopoly cannot match even when it tries to do so." Read it here.

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