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Are Whites Still Fleeing? Racial Patterns and Enrollment Shifts in Urban Public Schools, 1987-1996



The effect of interracial contact in public schools on the enrollment of whites has been an important concern in assessments of desegregation since the 1970s. It has been feared that “white flight”-meaning exit from or avoidance of racially mixed public schools-could undermine the racial contact that desegregation policy seeks to enhance. This study examines this question using recent data. It also expands coverage from large urban districts to entire metropolitan areas, paying attention to the spatial context within which enrollment decisions are made. To do so, it examines data for 1987 and 1996 on racial composition and enrollment in all schools and school districts in 238 metropolitan areas. The study finds that white losses appear to be spurred both by interracial contact in districts where their children attend school and by the opportunities available in metropolitan areas for reducing that contact. These findings apply with remarkable consistency to large and small districts in both large and small metropolitan areas. Implications for metropolitan segregation are examined. © 2001 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

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