Report Represents False Choice Between Integration and High-Quality Schools

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: Selective review and interpretation of the literature on race and poverty limits report’s utility for policymakers.

A recent report from the Brookings Institution assumes a tension between policies that address school segregation and policies aimed at improving achievement for students of color. The report argues that school segregation has remained flat for decades and also argues that students of color have lower achievement because of their disproportionate exposure to low-income students. Instead of attending to school segregation to address achievement gaps, the report argues policy should attend to improving the quality of schools that students of color and low-income students attend, with a focus on expanding urban charter schools in particular.

Erica Frankenberg, associate professor of education and demography at the Pennsylvania State University, and co-director of the Center for Education and Civil Rights, reviewed Segregation, Race, and Charter Schools: What Do We Know? for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at CU Boulder’s School of Education.

Professor Frankenberg’s review finds that the report omits significant research directly related to the topic and includes other studies that are less relevant. Moreover, the report draws questionable conclusions from studies that are included—conclusions that are not reflective of the research consensus.

Frankenberg notes that issues of racial equity and segregation have gained renewed interest in recent years, but she finds that the new Brookings report has little policy value. “This report is more a distraction than a contribution,” she cautions.

The report’s selective interpretation of existing research leads to two erroneous conclusions about improving educational outcomes for students of color: (1) that focusing on school integration is relatively unimportant; and (2) that attending to school quality via school choice, rather than addressing the complex array of policies to combat racial segregation, should instead be pursued. In fact, Frankenberg points out, “since most forms of school choice further segregation, the report’s recommendation will likely only further segregation and inequality for students.”

Find Erica Frankenberg’s review at:

Find Segregation, Race, and Charter Schools: What Do We Know? by Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Richard V. Reeves, & Edward Rodrigue, published by the Center on Children and Families at Brookings, at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project ( provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

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William J. Mathis

Erica Frankenberg
Pennsylvania State University
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since: 09/2010
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