Posted on January 13, 2022

Racial Demographics Influence School Choices for White, Asian and Latino Parents

University of Texas, January 7, 2022

White, Asian and Latino parents in New York City all express strong racial/ethnic preferences in where to send their kids to high school, according to a study just published in Sociology of Education. The study suggests that these preferences contribute substantially to school segregation in New York, which has one of the most racially segregated school systems in the country.

“Part of what’s going on is white parents living in a diverse city who don’t send their kids to Black neighborhood schools,” said study author Chantal Hailey, an assistant professor of sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. “But the choices and preferences of non-white parents also contribute to school racial and ethnic segregation.”

In order to tease out the role that racial/ethnic demographics play in parental preferences, Hailey conducted an experiment with a racially diverse group of 1,000 parents and students attending New York high school fairs. Families were asked to rank their preferences for a variety of hypothetical high schools. The school profiles included information on safety ratings, metal detector presence, graduation rates and extracurricular activities.

The profiles also included, but did not highlight, information about the racial/ethnic demographics of the schools. The goal, said Hailey, was to discern how large a role the racial/ethnic information played when families were selecting among otherwise similar schools.

She found that when white, Asian and Latino parents were presented with the choice of otherwise similar schools that were majority Black, majority white, majority Latino or mixed, the racial/ethnic demographics directly influenced their preferences.

White parents rated the hypothetical majority white school highest, followed by the mixed school, then the majority Latino and Black schools. Asian parents, like their white peers, were also less willing to attend the majority Latino and Black schools. Latino parents preferred the majority Latino school, and most wanted to avoid the majority Black school. Black parents showed no statistically significant preference for any of the schools based on racial/ethnic composition.

The results of Hailey’s experiment were consistent with the real-world administrative data on family preference in the New York high schools. Controlling for numerous other school characteristics, white families were 97% less likely to rank majority Black schools first on their applications compared with majority white schools, and 84% less likely to rank majority Latino schools first. Asian families were 90% less likely to rank majority Black schools first and 45% less likely to rank majority Latino schools first. And Latino families were 67% less likely to rank majority Black schools first on their applications compared with majority Latino schools.

“All racial groups tend to report feeling closer to their racial in-group, so that likely drives some of the preference,” said Hailey. {snip}