New Orfield Book: School Choice Exacerbating Inequality and Segregation

In the 20th century, some African American leaders argued for small selective group of leaders to be educated to lead the community. Then, as the century progressed, a more ecumenical approach to the education of all African American students was express in the sentiment of a rising education tide— improving schools for every student would lift all boats. For example, after the NAACP’s win in Brown v. Board, magnet schools were created as a strategy for excellence and integration under desegregation plans.

The pendulum of history is swing back to the elitism of the early 20th Century. Magnet schools are now re-segregating and stratifying. The unfortunate circumstance that we are living in again today is that schools of choice are operating under policies that are primarily making them available to the students who have been historically denied opportunities.

School choice models have empowered increasing segregation in charters and magnets. This increasing balkanization of the United States is problematic as decades of research shows that integration is good for all students. Furthermore, integrated schools are the clearest pathway to people of different kinds living and working together in our nation.

The unfortunate fact is that school choice policies in magnets have empowered schools to do the choosing. So often there is hand-wringing about why magnets are often homogenous. Yet, there is no mystery why this is the case as the deck has often been stacked in the selection process.

81l80SNKg0LOur nation’s great colleges and universities have taken the lead over the past several decades and demonstrated how to be excellent and integrated. They have responded to wave after wave of legislative, judicial and executive attacks on policies that promote equity and inclusion. Our institutions of higher education have been largely steadfast and posited that that the diversity makes them better. While our higher education institutions still have more to do, they are a beacon of commitment that should be followed by the K-12 sector.

Our nation has students in every neighborhood who have the native ability and passion to excel in such schools of choice, but they are not given the opportunity. As a result, it is incumbent upon teacher associations, grassroots community groups and civil rights organizations to monitor the choice systems to make sure that they are open and available to students who need the special and unique opportunities that magnet schools can offer historically underserved students.

I commend the scholars’ work in Discrimination in Elite Public Schools: Investigating Buffalo. It is clear they are committed to the American ideal of integrated schools and have expertly detailed in their research the problematic segregation of knowledge and access that plagues schools of choice today.

Here’s the official press release for Discrimination in Elite Public Schools: Investigating Buffalo :

School choice is an increasingly important part of today’s educational landscape and this timely volume presents fresh research about the competitive admissions policies of choice systems. Based on their investigation of a unique civil rights challenge to school choice admissions policies in politically and racially divided Buffalo, New York and the struggle to open its best schools to students of color, authors Orfield and Ayscue contend that without intentional effort, choice systems are likely to exacerbate problems of inequality and segregation. Focusing on issues that will continue to be contested in the courts and in the policy arena, the authors offer research-based recommendations for reducing barriers to enrollment and for creating competitive-admissions choice systems that will allow all students access to important educational opportunities. The book outlines specific steps school systems can take, including developing a district-wide diversity plan, providing more accessible information, conducting holistic admissions processes, expanding the availability of choices, and offering preparation programs to assist students long excluded from these highly competitive schools.

Book Features:

  • Examines the Buffalo Public Schools and their admissions process following a civil rights complaint filed by parents and community leaders.
  • Assesses admissions policies that unfairly exclude Black and Latino groups based on overreliance on a single test score.
  • Identifies policies and practices that can break down barriers to equal access and opportunity.
  • Assists educators, parents, civil rights leaders, and community groups who are struggling to turn the power of choice toward equity.


Let’s move beyond school choice talking points about its promise and take seriously the new research in the new book Discrimination in Elite Public Schools: Investigating Buffalo by  Gary Orfield (Editor) and Jennifer B. Ayscue (Editor).


  • Interesting timing just as Public Radio takes a look at the ‘helicopter parent’ problems associated to pushing test scores from day one of a child’s schooling just to endlessly get into ‘the right schools…’


  • Bishop Chris Baker

    Very familiar with this article (book) by mr orfield and as a parent and advocate alot of things being said i disagree with, as i talk to parents nationwide they welcome school choice and a large percentage of them dont feel that it is creating segregation as a matter of fact while in another state visiting these parents had emotional testimonies how choice has helped and kept there kid (s) on the right track, if choice was here i would have put my son in the program but he did exceptionally well in a charter program that made it able for him to receive a 4yr college program which he will be graduating with honors after 4 yrs, me as a parent chose a charter program that did great things to prepare him at the level he is now at..
    we are all entitled to our opinions but i totally disagree with Naacp as so a large group of others also disagree and it shocked me how many chapters and parents disagree if all goes well i will be traveling to a graduating ceremony were the choice program has be in place these were kids that were deemed at risk e.t.c. untill choice program came along, you’d never know these kids were at risk…

    Thank you for the school choice..


      • This is such a silly response. You didn’t even answer that commenters concerns. He made valid points. In my area, we have adopted middle school and high school and parents are excited.

        People choose colleges. Colleges can be just as segregated depending on the type of school you go to. However, college choice is necessary. Why shouldn’t black families be allowed to decide where they want their children to go? There are a multitude of reasons for not choosing a zone school. Many families lie about their addresses, so that they can go to a different school anyway.

        The commenter presented some serious concerns, I wish you would have attempted to address the issues, instead of using a meme to brush him off. It’s OK to disagree and he was doing so respectfully.

        Your response makes me think about one of the main points you make in Truth for America. TFA is notorious for shrugging off dissenters. You just pulled a TFA.


        • First it was impossible for him to have read the book because it was released that day. I received a copy from the publisher. That comment was disingenuous. Second, he and I have had in-person conversations. I don’t try to change minds that can’t be changed. Thanks for your comment.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s