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January 07, 2013

Tiebout Sorting and Public Education

In addition to the concerns voiced below by Rick and Marc to what was (apparently) Dean Chemerinsky's suggestion at the AALS session on education law that we should address inequality and segregation in K-12 education by creating large metropolitan-wide school districts, I would note that there is an at least debatable question about whether creation of metro districts would solve the problems of public schools (apart from the issues about private education that Rick and Marc have talked about already). For reasons I vividly recall studying in a seminar with Rick Hills and as summarized in this NBER research abstract by Caroline Minter Hoxby, there are substantial public finance arguments based on the Tiebout model that higher levels of geographic and financial centralization of public education make everyone worse off (subsidiarity!). See also the discussion of school finance in William Fischel's The Homevoter Hypothesis: How Home Values Influence Local Government Taxation, School Finance, and Land-Use Policies about why de-linking property values and public education spending has not turned out well (California is Exhibit A). I don't doubt that reforming K-12 education should be a social justice priority, only that some of the usual easy solutions (centralized state funding for education, larger districts) would be successful. Here is a bit from Hoxby's paper (though I gather part of Dean Chemerinsky's argument is that overruling Milliken v. Bradley and engaging in widespread busing would address some of what Hoxby argues here):

Choice among districts turns out to have little effect on the degree of segregation among students. The reason is that, empirically, the degree of racial, ethnic, and income segregation that a student experiences is related to the degree of choice among schools in a metropolitan area, but not to the degree of choice among districts. In other words, students are just as segregated in metropolitan areas that contain few districts as they are in metropolitan areas that contain many districts. Households sort themselves into neighborhoods inside districts; neighborhoods and schools are small enough relative to districts that district boundaries have little effect on segregation.

This result demonstrates how important it is to compare realistic alternatives. The realistic alternative to a metropolitan area with a high degree of choice among districts is not a metropolitan area in which all schools are perfectly desegregated and every student is exposed to similar peers. The realistic alternative is a metropolitan area with a low degree of choice among districts and a substantial degree of segregation among schools.

Posted by Michael Moreland on January 7, 2013 at 04:13 PM in Moreland, Michael | Permalink


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