School Choice and Social Class: Urban Geographies and Educational Opportunities
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The schools students attend and the education they receive matters for their further education and employment opportunities and future life chances. The mechanisms by which students are allocated to schools therefore play a fundamental part in determining access to such educational opportunities. Choice-based mechanisms are now established, and politically popular, methods of allocating students to schools, and advocates argue that school choice both improves performance and ensures equity of access to good quality schools. The evidence to support such arguments is, however, much less conclusive: across a diversity of institutional contexts a common finding is that school choice reproduces social class advantage in the education context. In this chapter I focus on the outcomes of school choice policies and their implications for the educational opportunities created for young people from different social class backgrounds. I first discuss the theoretical benefits of school choice and show how it is in urban areas that there may be the greatest potential for realising those benefits. I then consider the extent to which the evidence supports the rhetoric and why, in practice, the theoretical benefits may not be realised. Reviewing the literature from different national and institutional contexts, I argue that the evidence suggests that class-based inequalities of educational opportunity have not been reduced through policies of school choice. The reasons behind these observed outcomes are, however, complex and inter-connected, and potential policy solutions are not straightforward, particularly given the entrenched advantages of the middle-classes in the education ‘market’.
KeywordsSchool choice Social class Educational opportunities Education market School performance Equity of access Educational outcomes Preferences Constraints
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