Mapping choice: A critical GIS analysis of English learner enrollment
Keywords:school choice, English language learners, Geographic Information Systems, charter schools, open enrollment
In many ways, Arizona is on the forefront of school choice: in addition to a state-wide open enrollment law, it was one of the first states to adopt charter school legislation in 1994 and currently has the second-highest percentage of public school students attending charter schools in the nation. Despite the extensive research on school choice, less is known about whether choice systems meaningfully impart more opportunities for students classified as English learners, a diverse group that has been the subject of multiple discriminatory policies and has one of the lowest graduation rates in the state. The current paper uses geospatial analysis to examine English learner participation in school choice in one Arizona metropolitan area. The results indicate that charter schools consistently under-enroll EL students regardless of demographic variability across geographic locations. Charter school locational patterns may be one contributing factor to EL enrollment disparities, though they are not likely to be the only reason. Employing a conceptual framework of motility or “mobility capital” (Kaufman et al., 2004) and a critical stance on the spatial dimensions of neoliberal reforms, findings suggest that unregulated school choice may not reliably provide improved schooling options for students classified as English learners.
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