Overlapping and Disconnected Social Spheres: A Multi-contextual Model of the Link Between School Choice and Neighborhood Effects on Adolescents
Because of the rise of public school choice programs, children who share a neighborhood are increasingly going to different schools. I explore the effects of overlapping and disconnected neighborhood and school spheres via two linked questions; first, whether and how the conjuncture/disjuncture of neighborhoods and schools affects the types of friendship opportunities available to students both at school and within their residential areas; and second, whether and how the conjuncture/disjuncture of neighborhoods and schools mediate children’s exposure to neighborhood disadvantages like violence. What I find is that school choice amplifies the disadvantages that children encounter in their neighborhoods by fragmenting local adolescent community networks and exacerbating the violent conditions that children face at their neighborhood schools.
My data consist of 74 in-depth interviews with students from five public high schools in Philadelphia. Of these students, 45 attend a public magnet high school; the remaining 29 student interviewees live in the same neighborhoods as my magnet school sample but attend neighborhood schools in their local areas.
My findings suggest that school choice policies concentrate the advantages of children who are able to exercise choice while leaving behind a substantially larger population of children who are consigned to local schools that contend with a disproportionate load of student misconduct and school violence. Instead of closing educational gaps for all, these reforms further stratify poor neighborhoods by creating a new class of even more disadvantaged children who are becoming increasingly disconnected from positive peer role models both within their neighborhoods and at school.