Continuity of Operations planning information for the College of Education: Click here

College of Education > News and Publications > News: 2009 > Special Issue of the American Journal of Education Takes on School Choice

Special Issue of the American Journal of Education Takes on School Choice

The American Journal of Education dedicates its August issue to questions and controversies surrounding school choice. The Journal is headed by Gerald LeTendre, professor of education in the Penn State College of Education.

By Kevin Stacey, University of Chicago Press
773-834-0386 /

The American Journal of Education dedicates its August issue to questions and controversies surrounding school choice. School choice initiatives, including voucher plans as well as magnate and charter school programs, are popular ideas among school reform proponents. But despite 20 years of research, many questions about choice regimes remain unsettled, say the issue’s guest editors, Christopher Lubienski (University of Illinois) and Jack Dougherty (Trinity College).

“This special issue of the American Journal of Education does not pretend to provide the definitive answers for all of these questions,” the editors write. “Instead, it seeks to leverage some innovative and useful approaches applied in the study of other social issues for enhancing our understanding in areas such as school choice.”

The articles in this issue use geographic information systems (GIS) and other tools to assess impacts of existing school choice programs.

• Does school choice increase opportunities for poor children?

A finding by Christopher Lubienski, Charisse Gulosino (Brown University) and Peter Weitzel (University of Illinois) calls into question the oft-repeated assertion that choice regimes increase access to quality education for poor and minority families. The researchers constructed maps plotting where schools have opened and closed in recent years in three cities that employ school choice policies. In each of the three locations—Detroit; Washington, DC; and New Orleans—the researchers found that new schools tend to pop up in “ringing” patterns on the peripheries of the most disadvantaged areas. It’s an indication, the authors say, that schools in competitive markets position themselves to serve more active and engaged families while avoiding more disadvantaged students.

Christopher Lubienski, Charisse Gulosino, Peter Weitzel, “School Choice and Competitive Incentives: Mapping the Distribution of Educational Opportunities across Local Education Markets”

• Homebuyers pay a hefty premium for high-scoring, less integrated schools

It’s no secret that homebuyers consider school characteristics when deciding where to buy a home. This can be considered the classic mode of school choice. But just how much are buyers willing to pay to live on the higher-scoring side of school attendance boundaries? Using data collected from 1996 to 2005 in West Hartford, CT, a research team from Trinity College found that for a 12 percentage point increase in the number or fourth graders meeting state testing standards, homebuyers were willing to pay an extra $3917 for their houses. Likewise, buyers were willing to pay $547 more to live near a school that had a 14 percent smaller minority population. But looking at the data over time, these associations appear to be changing. In the second half of the study period—from 2001 to 2005—test scores became a weaker predictor of home price, while the premium paid for a school with a smaller minority population skyrocketed. In the later period of the study, the extra amount buyers were willing to pay for a less diverse school surged to $7468. The findings serve as evidence that “access to more desirable public schools is viewed more like a commodity—rather than a democratic right...,” the authors write. And the race-based finding casts doubt assertion that school choice offers better opportunity for minority students.

Jack Dougherty, Jeffrey Harrelson, Laura Maloney, Drew Murphy, Russell Smith, Michael Snow, and Diane Zannoni, “School Choice in Suburbia:Test Scores, Race, and Housing Markets.”

• Choice could lead to more segregation in public schools

Research by Deenesh Sohoni and Salvatore Saporito (College of William and Mary) shows that private charter and magnate schools increase segregation in neighborhood public schools. Using data from 22 of the nation’s largest school districts, the authors found that public schools are more segregated than the neighborhoods from which they draw students. The higher school segregation is mainly due to white students opting for private schools outside the area. The authors argue that voucher programs may worsen public school segregation, as poor white children would use them to leave public schools. “If policy makers enact programs that subsidize the school choice options of families (e.g., voucher programs) without taking into account their effects on racial segregation, the increased mobility of students is likely to mirror current race-specific distributions of students in public and private schools,” the authors write.

Deenesh Sohoni and Salvatore Saporito, “Mapping School Segregation: Using GIS to Explore Racial Segregation between Schools and Their Corresponding Attendance Areas.”

Research by Chris Taylor (Cardiff University) presents a mixed picture of school choice and segregation. Taylor analyzes GIS data from the UK, where school choice programs expanded under the Thatcher administration. Some schools in his study seemed to position themselves to attract a higher-income, higher-achieving and lower-minority student body. But other schools sought a broader student base, and became more integrated after choice reforms were enacted. The finding suggests that choice creates a two-tiered education system.

Chris Taylor, “Choice, Competition, and Segregation in a United Kingdom Urban Education Market.”

• Space and place: What parents think about when they think about choosing a school

Researcher Courtney Bell (Educational Testing Service) explores the role geography plays in parents’ school choices. Previous research has found that parents tend to choose schools in convenient locations. But Bell’s work goes further by distinguishing between “space”—the distance between home and school, and “place”—the social meanings that individuals attribute to particular neighborhoods and communities where schools are located. Her study focuses on Detroit, where public school options have increased in recent years. Using face-to-face interviews with parents and GIS mapping, she found that convenience is not the only geographic consideration parents make. For many parents, a sense of “place” mattered more. Those parents wanted to send students to a school that “they could trust and see their children growing in,” rather than a school that was merely convenient, Bell found.

Courtney Bell, “Geography in Parental Choice.”

For copies of any of the articles in this special issue, please contact Kevin Stacey at the University of Chicago Press: or 773-834-0386.


Founded as School Review in 1893, the American Journal of Education acquired its present name in November 1979. The Journal seeks to bridge and integrate the intellectual, methodological, and substantive diversity of educational scholarship, and to encourage a vigorous dialogue between educational scholars and practitioners. American Journal of Education editor Gerald LeTendre and the Journal editorial board are based at the Penn State College of Education.