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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name



Educational Leadership and Policy

First Advisor

Sarah W. Lenhoff


In high-poverty and racially segregated contexts, relatively disadvantaged students may be systematically excluded from schools of choice, and school outcomes may be driven by student sorting more than school effectiveness. Research on school choice, however, has largely ignored socioeconomic differences among low-income and racially minoritized families. Quantitative research has relied on free/reduced-price lunch or other poor proxies for socioeconomic status; qualitative research has tended to focus on differences between racial or class groups rather than within them; and popular narratives have sentimentalized and homogenized the lives of “urban students” while glossing over socioeconomic heterogeneity among them.

I describe and explain socioeconomic stratification among students in Detroit. Charter schools enroll fewer students in “deep poverty” and more students above the poverty line, and selective schools enroll a distinctly advantaged student population. The socioeconomic differences by which Detroit students are stratified are not captured in common measures and are glossed over in the research and political discourse. The patterns of stratification are shaped by geographic constraints and social networks; and differences in school type reputations and schools’ recruitment and enrollment behavior also play a role. My findings call into question the policy logic of school choice in urban education as articulated by contemporary educational reformers.

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