Penalizing Diversity: How School Rankings Mislead the Market
54 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2012
Date Written: July 26, 2012
This Article demonstrates how faulty information in the marketplace creates misperceptions about school quality and makes diverse schools appear less desirable than their competitors. This distorts parental choices about where to purchase a home and, in turn, contributes to the de facto housing segregation that continues to characterize the United States.
To date, the diversity penalty and resulting harms this Article identifies have received little attention in the legal literature. Through empirical analysis of popular school rankings from Illinois, New Jersey, and Ohio, the Article fills the gap by showing how aggregated proficiency testing data masks demographic differences and reinforces the myth that schools comprised of mostly economically-advantaged and White students are better than those that serve a diverse mix of students. The Article next analyzes school report cards and accountability metrics from 18 states and concludes that most state-sponsored messages about school quality also emphasize such data, with the inevitable effect of making diverse schools appear less effective than any rational assessment of their outcomes would justify. This dynamic creates a cascade of social harms, including promoting residential and school segregation, and making it more difficult to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and more advantaged students.
The Article proposes ways that federal and state policy makers can utilize school outcome data to encourage rational parental choices and thereby contribute significantly to both better and more diverse schools.
Keywords: school rankings, achievement gap, No Child Left Behind, school report cards
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