Race Didn’t Affect Tests

Danielle Deaver, Winston-Salem Journal, March 28, 2007

The school-choice plan that Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools put in place more than 10 years ago created racially segregated schools but did not affect students’ performance in school, according to a study from a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Students are performing at the level you would expect them to perform, and it does not appear to be affected by school choice. That is the profound finding here,” Dennis K. Orthner, a professor of public policy and social work at the university, told the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board last night.

Orthner presented the findings of Hinckley A. Jones-Sanpei, who studied school choice in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system for her doctoral dissertation, titled “School Choice, Segregation, and Academic Outcomes: Educational Trajectories Under a Controlled Choice Student Assignment Policy.” Orthner was her adviser.

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Jones-Sanpei looked at the test scores of 11,000 students who were in the school system between 1992 and 2002. She found that the racial makeup of a student’s school had no effect on his or her scores on standardized tests.

“Black students are not doing any better in middle-class schools than the black schools?” asked school-board member Vic Johnson.

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The findings were surprising, he said. “Previous studies have shown that school choice as it was implemented here tended to lead to greater racial homogeneity,” he said. “What was unanticipated was that there would be no negative effects.”

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School choice has created segregated schools, Orthner said. They expected racial majorities in schools to be between 32 percent and 68 percent. Instead, schools have as little as 13 percent and as high as 99 percent minorities.

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The school system’s Equity Plus program might have protected Winston-Salem students from the negative effects of school choice, he said. The schools with the highest number of poor students have smaller class sizes, and teachers are paid more to work there.

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