Parents’ school experiences impact where they send their kids — and can exacerbate ‘white flight’

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The decision of where to send a child for their K-12 education is a big one. According to new research from Rice University sociologists, approximately one-third of parents in their Dallas-based study make the call based on their own experiences in the classroom.

This method of decision making can exacerbate racial segregation and “white flight” from city schools, the research revealed.

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“‘I Went There’: How Parent Experience Shapes School Decisions” will appear in a forthcoming issue of Social Currents. Study authors Anna Rhodes, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice; Julia Szabo, a graduate student in sociology at Rice; and Siri Warkentien, a researcher at RTI International, analyzed interviews with a socioeconomically and ethno-racially diverse sample of 60 parents in Dallas (data from the How Parents House Kids project ).

The researchers found that parents with positive schooling experiences sought out schools like the ones they attended for their children. Meanwhile, parents with negative experiences aimed to avoid choosing similar schools for their kids.

While attempting to replicate positive schooling experiences was embraced by parents regardless of race or socioeconomic status, it was most common among white parents. Rhodes noted that this behavior can continue patterns of “white flight” — especially true when white parents choose private or suburban schools like those they attended without considering other options.

“​​There's an intergenerational process that's happening through this form of school selection that allows white parents not to think about the broader social consequences of these decisions, which replicate patterns of white flight,” Rhodes said. “Instead, parents focus on sending their child to the same type of school they attended, but this results in decisions that perpetuate patterns of segregation in schooling.”

The study found that Black parents who had negative experiences in Dallas public schools aimed to avoid them, instead opting their children into charter schools.

Rhodes said the study highlights the importance of understanding patterns of school enrollment and their implications for educational inequality.

This study was supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It is online at