Parents are biased against even quality ‘urban’ schools

December 13, 2018

In urban areas across the country that give parents significant choice over where to send their kids to school, educational stratification and racial segregation is usually exacerbated. The result is that even when urban districts improve a little, they struggle to improve a lot because middle-class parents choose to send their children elsewhere.

In recent years, many of America’s urban schools have improved significantly. A 2016 report from the Urban Institute found that while all the country’s public-school students improved in the decade starting in 2005, the gain for those in large cities was double that of the U.S. average; the advances are especially pronounced in kids’ reading scores. With these strides, the achievement gap between city districts and their suburban and rural counterparts closed by roughly a third during that same period.

In some cases, the gap is all but nonexistent. Take, for example, Chicago, which in the late 1980s was notoriously deemed the country’s “worst school system” by then-Education Secretary William J. Bennett. A number of recent studies have shown that while standardized-test scores across Illinois have been flattening for the past decade or so, achievement in Chicago’s public-school district (CPS) has been steadily rising.

In fact, data from 11,000 school districts studied by Stanford researchers last year suggest that CPS ranks first in the nation for academic growth, and state statistics show that its students’ college-attendance rates are steadily improving, too: Sixty-five percent of the district’s 2018 graduates enrolled in college within a year after getting their diploma, compared with an average of 75 percent across the state. CPS students’ college-going prospects still fall toward the bottom when compared with those in most nearby districts, but they’re far from the worst—and the Stanford researchers’ findings around future growth in CPS indicate that its students’ postsecondary-achievement levels are poised to continue improving.