At Ed School, Researcher Talks New York City School Choice

Dozens of educators, researchers, and students gathered at the Graduate School of Education Tuesday to discuss research on school choice in New York City public schools.

Princeton sociology professor Jennifer L. Jennings headlined the event, the second installment in the Center for Education Policy Research public seminar series. Jennings’s research focuses on finding a way to level the playing field in New York City’s school matching program—since 2004, eighth graders in the city have been required to rank their preferred high schools, a program that Jennings and other have found to lead to disparate educational outcomes.

Jennings said that her findings contradict the “assumption that kids are trapped in local neighborhoods”: In fact, she said, students from lower-income neighborhoods tend to travel farther for school. Instead, inequalities arise when those lower-income families don’t have sufficient information to choose the best schools for their children, Jennings said.

“I think there’s an assumption that people have information about schools and how they’re different, and there’s an assumption that families—between working, taking care of kids, getting through the day—have the time, resources, and ability to really navigate a complex process,” Jennings said in an interview.

Miriam Greenberg, the director of education and communications at the CEPR, said Jennings’s research demonstrated how “choice systems, charter or not, are very complex and that some students have a harder time knowing how to navigate those systems.”

Greenberg said doctoral students in the educational research fellowship program had indicated their enthusiasm for hearing about Jennings's work.

“She did a lot of public writing about education before she became a scholar, so I think that she is an interesting figure because she’s really thinking about research through a practitioner’s lense,” Greenberg said of Jennings.

Jennings said that her interest in the subject stemmed from her graduate school studies, during which she identified significant inequalities in the school choice system. In sharing her most recent research with scholars at the Ed School, Jennings said, “A goal is to try to convey the results that we have to date and to get feedback on those results, so it’s very much a two way process.”

The next speaker in the CEPR’s seminar series will be Bridget Terry Long, a professor at the Ed School who will deliver a public lecture on November 7.

“We brought people here because we just really want to make sure that the public is able to interact with the research and see how that research applies back into their districts,” said Greenberg.


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