Free school choice reinforces the expansion of segregated schools

A new in-depth study prepared by professors Gabor Kezdi and Gabor Kertesi proves that free school choice, and not residential segregation, plays the largest role in school segregation.

he study examines 100 Hungarian towns with the largest Romani populations in the country in order to see the correlation between school segregation of Romani students and local educational policies or societal factors. The research was financed by the Roma Education Fund.

According to the research, local governments pursue slightly different educational policies. While some settlements directly strive for creating ethnical homogeneity between schools, there are instances when the educational strategy of the local government is pro-segregation.

The inter-district mobility of higher-status students, local educational policies, and the share of the Romani population in a town were found to have the largest degree of influence on school segregation.

The ethnic composition of schools has been found to be influenced by the share of the Romani population in a town, as well as by local educational policies; however, the inter-district mobility of higher-status students is also significant. Although it was presumed that high levels of ethnic residential segregation would result in high levels of school segregation, the research found that the association between the two was quite weak; it is rather attributed to inter-district mobility and free school choice.

The share of Romani students in Hungarian schools on an average is about 12 to 13 percent but there are settlements where it may amount to 30 to 40 percent. Students in segregated schools usually come from socially deprived families living in deep poverty. The services provided in these segregated schools are generally of very low quality as opposed to integrated schools, and teachers are poorly trained. The Kertesi-Kézdi research found that the inter-district mobility of higher status students, local educational policies and the share of the Romani population in a town have the largest degree of influence on school segregation. Conversely, residential segregation has no direct impact on the level of school segregation, presumably due to the importance of inter-district mobility and free school choice. The students with the highest ability will be sorted into the highest ranked schools, while the students with the lowest ability students will be sorted into the lowest ranked schools. This is a color-blind sorting equilibrium as the sorting results in an unequal distribution by ethnicity across schools.

Previous data shows that the level of school segregation was decreasing in 2006-2008, but today it is clear that it has been growing since and the tendency is still increasing.

"A Romani child in Hungary today is twice as likely to drop out of the school system than its non-Roma peers. Romani children are also likely to start primary education in segregated or special schools and classes. The study reappoints that free school selection is not surely in favor of supporting democracy and equal opportunities." – says REF director Judit Szira.

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