Charter schools, parent choice, and segregation: A longitudinal study of the growth of charters and changing enrollment patterns in five school districts over 26 years

Doug Archbald, Andrew Hurwitz, Felicia Hurwitz


In 1975, a court-ordered busing program was launched to desegregate the schools of New Castle County, Delaware. It was by many accounts one of the most significant and successful desegregation programs in the nation (Armor & Rossell, 2002; Orfield, 2014; Raffel, 1980). In 1995, the districts of the county were declared “unitary” and the court order was lifted. Shortly thereafter, new policies were enacted allowing school choice, charter schools, and neighborhood attendance zoning. This study draws on primary and secondary data, including geographic, census, and enrollment data, and provides an account of the policy changes and a 26-year longitudinal analysis of changing enrollment trends and patterns. Segregation by race and income among schools accelerated after the policy changes. While the policy changes created greater segregation, enrollment trends varied by district and over time; segregation growth was moderate in two of the districts, small in the others. Our study illuminates the complexity of explaining segregation patterns and disentangling the contributing role of choice, charters, attendance zones, and residential demographics in explaining segregation patterns in school systems.


Segregation; school choice; charter schools

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Copyright (c) 2019 Doug Archbald, Andrew Hurwitz, Felicia Hurwitz

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