University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Is Little Rock Getting More Segregated?

In The View from the OEP on December 5, 2016 at 11:27 am

Group of Friends Smiling

Today we are excited to release the fifth policy brief regarding student integration in Little Rock public schools, where we answer the question about the racially and economically segregative impact of student moves from traditional public schools to charters.

Actually, because only 2% of students from the area TPSs switch to charters each year, we are not just interested in the students that switch from traditional public schools to charters.  We are also wondering about the impact of ALL students that choose to leave the Little Rock metro area traditional public school system (Little Rock School District, North Little Rock School District and Pulaski County Special School District). This includes students who leave for other traditional public schools (about 6% of students annually), or for other non-public educational options such as homeschooling or private school (about 7% of students annually).

Our question was what is the segregative impact of the 15% of students leaving the Little Rock metro area traditional public schools each year?  Are the traditional public schools becoming more racially or economically  segregated as a result of students leaving?

So what did we find?

Overall, when students exit traditional public schools in the Little Rock metro area, their exit makes the school more integrated.

  • 84% of moves made by black or white students resulted in a racially integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.
  • 79% of student moves resulted in an economically integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.

Wow. But what about just those kids leaving TPSs for charters?   Are those resulting in more segregated traditional schools?

No. When students exit traditional public schools in the Little Rock metro area to attend charters in the area, their exit still makes the school more integrated.

  • 83% of black or white student moves from traditional schools to charters resulted in a racially integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.
  • 78% of economically disadvantaged student moves from traditional schools to charters resulted in an economically integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.

Wow. But what about just those kids leaving Little Rock School District for charters?   Are those resulting in more segregated traditional schools?

Nope. When students exit traditional public schools in the Little Rock School District to attend charters in the area, their exit makes the school more integrated.

  • 89% of black or white student moves from traditional schools to charters resulted in a racially integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.
  • 78% of economically disadvantaged student moves from traditional schools to charters resulted in an economically integrative or neutral effect on the traditional public school that they exited.

Wow! So what does that mean?

This analysis shows that, currently, student transfers out of traditional schools are  improving the level of racial and economic integration in the Little Rock metro area public school system. How can this be?

When we think about increasing integration, we picture students entering a school with students who are racially or demographically different from themselves.  What we found in this analysis, however, is that integration is occurring because students are leaving traditional public schools where the majority of students are ‘like them’; white students are leaving schools with above average percentages of white students, and black students are leaving schools with above average percentages of black students. The same pattern is present for economic differences in enrollment; students eligible for FRL are leaving schools with higher concentrations of poverty, while Non-FRL students are leaving schools with lower concentrations of poverty.  When the students leave, therefore, their schools look less ‘like them’ and become more racially and economically integrated.

Why are students going to traditional public schools with so many students that are demographically similar to themselves? Geographic segregation can result in attendance zones being racially and economically segregated.  We see that the majority of schools in LRSD have over 80% of students eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch, but that there are three schools with fewer than 30% of students on FRL.  The racial breakdowns are similar, with the majority of schools enrolling over 80% minority students, but the three schools with the low FRL enrollment also have the lowest minority enrollment.

While we are glad to see that student transfers out of traditional public schools in the Little Rock metro area are not leading to increased segregation in the schools they exit, we are concerned about the disparities present in traditional public schools. The integrative effects of students leaving traditional public schools result from the wide racial and even wider economic disparities between traditional public schools.

We feel the results of these analyses should be a catalyst to focus not on perceived (but factually incorrect) segregative impacts of LR area charter schools.  Many students and their parents (15% annually) are making different education choices than LR Metro TPSs.  Some are leaving the public school system altogether, others are choosing to attend other traditional public schools, and some are enrolling in charters. We need to respect parents’ choices for their students and focus on quality educational experiences for students in our classrooms.

Integration isn’t just about numbers, but about students building authentic relationships with peers from different backgrounds, and experiencing meaningful educational experiences together. We need to continue to track enrollment trends in the Little Rock area, but we need to ensure we are working together to support high quality education for all students.


How did you figure this out?

Here we are going to give some context to our analysis, but if you are really interested please read the policy brief or the (even more detailed) Arkansas Education Report.

First, we defined what we meant by segregated. What ‘should’ the racial demographics of schools be?  Is the standard an equally balanced 50% black students and 50% white students? Nationally, 73% of the population is white and 13% is black, but in Arkansas 80% are white and 16% are black.  When we just examine students enrolled in Arkansas’ public schools, however, there is a marked difference in racial representation: in 2015-16,  62% of students are white and 21% are black. But we aren’t interested in all of Arkansas, because we are only talking about school in Pulaski County.  Here the difference is more significant: 59% of the population in Pulaski County is white and 36% is black, but in the public school population, only 29% of the population is white while 56% is black. We decided to use a 10 percentage point window around the annual black, white and economically disadvantaged percentages for all students enrolled in the public school system in the Little Rock metro area as our definition of integrated. Schools with greater or lesser representation were identified as segregated.

Second, we considered the demographics of each student that exits a traditional public school to determine the impact of the move on the school.  The combination of the student demographics and the racial or economic percentages of students enrolled at the school can result in the move being integrative, segregative or neutral.

  • If a black student exits a school with above average black enrollment, then the black enrollment of the school decreases and the student’s move makes the school slightly more like the average.  In this case we label the move racially integrative.
  • If, however, a white student exited a school with above average black enrollment, then the black enrollment of the school increases and the move makes the school slightly less like the average. In this case we label the move racially segregative.
  • If either a black or a white student exited a school with enrollment within ten percentage points of the average black enrollment in the Little Rock Metro Area, then the move is considered racially neutral.

We repeated this procedure for students relative to their Free/ Reduced Lunch status (a proxy for poverty) and the percentage of students at the school who were eligible for FRL.

Third, we had to identify the samples. We examined all moves out of Little Rock metro Area  TPSs (Little Rock School District, North Little Rock School District and Pulaski County Special School District) by race (black/white) and Free/Reduced Lunch status as a proxy measure of low socio-economic status.  We repeated the analysis for only those students from Little Rock School District. We used student-level data to examine annual moves from 2008-09 to 2014-15.

For more information about our data, our methodology and our results please read the full Arkansas Education Report.

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