School zoning perpetuates inequalities in society

So says David Grimmond in his discussion of school zoning! (Infometrics link here)

I am not a fan of school zoning.  Its main outcome is to reduce school choices for poorer families.  Although the intentions underpinning the policy are probably noble, it has unintended consequences which on the whole harm the prospects of children from poorer households.

Zoning adds another incentive to move into a community filled with people that are “like” you.  As we know from Schelling, a small incentive for such things can quickly lead to complete segregation.  Rather than enforcing greater equality in the school system, zoning is a feel good policy that ends up reinforcing broader inequalities!

If we honesty want to ensure education provides for everyone in society, David suggests:

It is too simplistic to presume that alternatives to the public system will be sufficient to generate education improvements.  Indeed, the US experience demonstrates that there is a mix of outcomes from charter schools.  But what the US experience with charter schools has provided is the opportunity to learn from their experimentation.  My reading of this evidence is that there are at least three areas that schools can focus on to improve education outcomes:

  • Ensuring that the school maintains standards about expected student behaviour
  • Openly assessing, reviewing, and improving teaching methods
  • Directing better teachers towards students who have the greatest need for improved education outcomes.
  • Agree, but I’d note that our decile funding system, where education is paid out of general tax revenues instead of local taxes, and where it scales up for lower tier areas, attenuates at least some of the need to move to better zones. There’s still the incentive to move to get your kids among a less pathological cohort of kids (not meaning that particularly pejoratively, but no other way of putting it), but it’s a weaker incentive than it otherwise would be.

  • VMC

    A subject that I know a lot about. Firstly, the reason for zoning is that the government that owns and funds schools does not want to have excess buildings. So, if a lot of kids want to leave school A and move to school B the government would have to build a lot of classrooms at school B, while empty building sit around at school A. Not sure that the taxpayer would appreciate this. The second reason for the current regulatory environment is to ensure that every student has a school they can attend that is convenient to attend (Before about 1998, this was not the case) But David’s claim only has any substance if going to school B would provide some sort of advantage – and the evidence is clear that it would not. Study after study shows that the differences between students who come out of our schools has almost nothing to do with the nature of the school. Which in NZ, makes sense, when we realise that the teachers in all schools were educated similarly, use the same curriculum,teach to the same qualifications, and pretty much use the same pedagogy and materials. In Auckland, private schools fill up with people whose kids are out of zone for the public schools they would like them to attend. But there is no evidence that it lends them any advantage scholastically.