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After 20 years, has school choice just made self-segregation easier?

Apr 8, 2016

Credit Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan's Schools of Choice program is now 20 years old.

In some parts of the state, the competition for students can be intense. Public school districts put up yard signs, families are sometimes offered gifts to sign up for a school out of district, and the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools has increased.

The Holland Sentinel recently looked at the impact of school choice on the school districts in that area. The hardest-hit has been Holland Public Schools.

Brian Davis is superintendent of Holland's schools.

Davis was working in Zeeland in the 1996-1997 school year, when Schools of Choice was implemented. Zeeland drew a lot of out-of-district students that first year.

As a middle school counselor, Davis tells us he would often give families tours of the school as they surveyed their School of Choice options. He saw a lot of families who were concerned about the academic performance of certain populations of students in Holland’s schools.

“I think part of that happened as Holland became more ethnically diverse,” he says.

In the Holland Sentinel piece, Davis indicated he found stereotype-fueled assumptions about race were behind some families’ decision to send their children elsewhere. He says families were often concerned about the demographic makeup of different schools.

“The way the media sometimes portrays, or the way images are viewed, or as we look at achievement results, students of colors have not fared very well in terms of overall academic performance, and there’s a whole host of reasons as to why that is, and a lot of times there’s a significant intersection with students who live in poverty,” he says.

“As a district becomes more ethnically diverse, you actually ... will have and can have a white flight out of the school district,” Davis says.

Since 2000, Davis says Holland schools have lost about 40% of their students to other districts.

Davis tells us he’s not against Schools of Choice, but he worries that the program could have unintended consequences.

Brian Davis tells us more about the Schools of Choice program and in our conversation above.