Laissez Faire Education Policy: Organization and Equity in School Choice Open Access

Davis, Tomeka M. (2008)

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The debate surrounding school choice has become increasingly polemical in recent years. While advocates of choice suggest that it will combat inequality and increase achievement, opponents contend that choice may be transforming inequality, shifting disparities that were once a between-school problem and making them a within- school occurrence. This study examines the effect of school choice on three aspects of education: school governance and organization, school-level achievement, and inequality in student- level achievement and track placement/advanced course-taking. I use two competing theoretical frameworks to explain the relationship between choice, organization, achievement, and tracking: a market model favored by economists and conflict model rooted in sociological traditions. I use data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002 and 2004 to evaluate the effects of school choice. The results of this study suggest that public choice options do little to enhance school organization and school-level achievement gains. Private choice options, particularly Catholic schools, have significant positive effects on school organization and school-level achievement gains. Moreover, rather than reducing the SES gap in achievement, public schools of choice and private schools increase this gap. Although tracking was theorized to be the causal mechanism perpetuating this effect, my findings indicate that choice schools do not intensify racial or SES differences in curricular tracking. Instead, private choice options attenuate the SES gap in tracking and advanced course-taking. However, racial and economic diversity mediate the track placement of students in public schools of choice. Low SES and minority students in economically and racially diverse choice schools are less likely to be in the academic track while high SES and White students are more likely to be in the academic track. The findings generated here have important implications for public policy initiatives like No Child Left Behind aimed at increasing achievement levels and reducing race and income-based disparities in education via school choice. If poor and minority parents must rely on public and private choice options to flee failing schools, choice may not deliver on its promise of enhancing outcomes for these students, at least in terms of achievement.

Table of Contents

1. Chapter One - Introduction
2. Chapter Two - Market Solutions with Conflict Consequences
3. Chapter Three - Data and Methods
4. Chapter Four - School Choice: School-Level Organization and
5. Chapter Five - School Choice: Equity in Achievement and Track Placement

6. Chapter Six - Market vs. Conflict: School Choiec, Diversity, and Track Placement

7. Chapter Seven - Conclusion

8. Tables and Figures

9. References

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