Integrating New York City Schools: The Role of Admission Criteria and Family Preferences

Discussion Paper

Clémence Idoux

April 2022

Almost 70 years after Brown v. Board of Education, most urban school districts remain segregated by race and income. School admission criteria could perpetuate segregation by limiting access. This paper uses recent screened-school admission reforms and a structural model to gauge the contribution of school admission criteria to segregation in New York City middle schools. Two admission reforms that reduced academic screening decreased economic and racial segregation, while prompting some white and high-income students to leave the traditional public school sector. These admission reforms also appear to have changed application behavior in a manner reinforcing their desegregating effects. I use a model of school demand that allows for strategic application behavior to predict the consequences of hypothetical city-wide admission reforms. The resulting estimates suggest that removing academic screening only modestly reduces school segregation. In contrast, dropping admission criteria based on geographic proximity reduces segregation markedly. On balance, only about half of NYC middle school segregation is due to school admission criteria, with the rest due to family preferences and residential sorting.