- Deven Carlson
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This paper conceptualizes segregation as a phenomenon that emerges from the intersection of public policy and individual decision-making. Contemporary scholarship on complex decision-making describes a two-step process—1) Editing and 2) Selection— and has emphasized the individual decision-maker’s agency in both steps. We build on this work by exploring, both theoretically and empirically, how policy can structure the choices individuals face at each step. We conduct this exploration within the empirical context of enrollment decisions among families in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), which used a controlled school choice system to help achieve diversity aims. We first investigate the schooling choice sets that WCPSS constructed for families and then examine families’ schooling selections. We find that families were offered choice sets containing schools varying racial compositions, but that the racial makeup of schools in families’ choice set systematically varied by schooling type and student race/ethnicity. We further show that a majority of families enrolled in their district-assigned default school, with Black and Hispanic families more likely than white or Asian families to attend this option. Finally, we demonstrate that white or Asian families enroll in their default school at lower rates as the share of Black students increases.
Many public school diversity efforts rely on reassigning students from one school to another. While opponents of such efforts articulate concerns about the consequences of reassignments for students’ educational experiences, little evidence exists regarding these effects, particularly in contemporary policy contexts. Using an event study design, we leverage data from an innovative socioeconomic school desegregation plan to estimate the effects of reassignment on reassigned students’ achievement, attendance, and exposure to exclusionary discipline. Between 2000 and 2010, North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) reassigned approximately 25 percent of students with the goal of creating socioeconomically diverse schools. Although WCPSS’s controlled school choice policy provided opportunities for reassigned students to opt out of their newly reassigned schools, our analysis indicates that reassigned students typically attended their newly reassigned schools. We find that reassignment modestly boosts reassigned students’ math achievement, reduces reassigned students’ rate of suspension, and has no offsetting negative consequences on other outcomes. Exploratory analyses suggest that the effects of reassignment do not meaningfully vary by student characteristics or school choice decisions. The results suggest that carefully designed school assignment policies can improve school diversity without imposing academic or disciplinary costs on reassigned students.