Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Major Professor

Bobbie Greenlee, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Darlene Bruner, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Darlene DeMarie, Ph.D.

Committee Member

William Young, Ed.D.


desegregation, dissimilarity index, education, poverty, school quality


In recent years, the responsibility for the desegregation of American public schools has transitioned from federal court mandates to school board programs and policies. There is widespread belief that this has resulted in the resegregation of schools across the country. One popular policy that is purported to provide the opportunity for voluntary integration, along with accountability for academic quality, is school choice. The purpose of this study was to consider the implications of such a policy in one large school district. There is an extensive body of research exploring who participates in school choice, how they make their choices, and why they choose the schools their children attend. In contrast, this study was designed to investigate the actual choices made by parents and the impact of those choices on the elementary schools in the district.

This quantitative descriptive study examined the racial and socioeconomic composition of students in one district’s elementary schools during the 2009-2010 school year, and explored the extent to which the student populations in these schools would differ if all students had attended their attendance area schools, rather than participating in the district’s voluntary choice plan. The actual 2009-2010 demographics were compared to “counterfactual” demographics for each school. The researcher generated the counterfactual data by removing the students who chose to attend the school and adding back the students who chose to exit the school. These actual and counterfactual demographics for each school were used to compare dissimilarity indices calculated for the district’s elementary schools as they actually were, and as they theoretically would have been without the school choice program. Additionally, the quality of the schools parents chose was investigated.

The results showed that, in this district, the school choice plan did not impact the level of integration in the elementary schools. The schools were moderately segregated with the school choice plan in place, but were also moderately segregated based on the counterfactual demographics that represented the district without school choice. Most parents (60%) chose high quality schools, as identified by the state’s accountability plan. However, parents who chose low achieving schools were disproportionately black and poor. Further research is warranted to determine if the mechanics of the school choice plan could be manipulated to improve the level of integration in the district, and to better understand the decisions made by some parents to send their children to low performing schools.