The customer of a school is the parent. Not the child. Nor a labor union. Nor the government. That’s the focus of David Armor’s CATO Institute policy analysis, “The Problems with Economic Integration and Controlled Choice.” Economic integration refers to a top down policy to equalize the proportion of low-income students in each school within a district. The idea of “controlled choice” is “a method of assigning students to schools by giving parents some degree of “choice” among the public schools in their district.” However, “choice” is a misnomer. The policy is more about control than choice. Armor states that the plans are “more like race-based mandatory busing.”
Proponents of the economic integration models argue that there is evidence that economic diversity is producing academic benefits for poor children within these districts. But the evidence does not bear this out. Several case studies were conducted in larger school districts that imposed economic integration. They found that “whether forced school desegregation broadly has shrunk gaps is unclear due to difficulty isolating the effects of desegregation, while there is ample evidence that this did not happen in the controlled-choice cases documented or in other, specific school districts that underwent racial desegregation.”
When larger school districts create these top-down fiats of controlled choice, there appears to be an evacuation of middle-and upper-class, often referred to as “white flight.” According to ACTE program chair, Don Nielsen, “Many people believe the middle- and upper-class flight from the cities was due to racism. No doubt racism played a role. However, I believe the bigger reason was the failure of government officials to understand who is responsible for a child’s education.”
Often overlooked is that the policy’s main goal of closing achievement gaps has not been achieved. Not only that, but it “separated the parent and school by distance,” which explains why mandatory busing [or controlled choice] was unsuccessful. It failed because it “removes parents from the education of their child and from involvement in their child’s school.”
Important to note is that choosing to be a part of the mandatory economic integration policy is not something Armor (nor we at ACTE) oppose. Armor rightly states that “a voluntary approach, where students attend because of a mutual interest in a specific academic program or because they desire to experience ethnic or economic diversity, might yield some of the benefits of integration without the negative side effects.”
When the government forces ideas such as mandatory busing or controlled choice on families, the overall net effects are negative. Schools become predominantly minority. It contributes to growing racial and economic isolation. Nor does it close achievement gaps.
Mandatory integration, where the government imposes a top down decree, must not prevail.