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Tsatsaklas, Katherine --- "Segregated Cities And Segregated Schools: White Flight In Detroit And Sydney" [2018] UNSWLawJlStuS 3; (2018) UNSWLJ Student Series No 18-03



Our nation, I fear, will be ill served by the Court's refusal to remedy separate and unequal education, for unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.[1]


It has been 60 years since the United States (‘US’) Supreme Court first recognised the importance of education in democratic societies.[2] Traditionally, the public school was described as an institution that was required to enrol students in the surrounding ‘neighbourhood’.[3] For the most part, America has remained committed to this ideal of the neighbourhood school. America’s history, however, has meant that housing and schooling segregation are closely entwined. In cities like Detroit stark housing segregation has been entrenched by decades of legal and private discrimination practices. The rampant segregation within Detroit’s schools is simply a reflection of this. The sad and tragic reality is that across the country, millions of black children attend segregated, disadvantaged and failing schools. The Australian education experience, on the other hand, has broken the traditional nexus between schooling and housing by borrowing heavily from American neoliberal education policies such as ‘school choice’. Parents are ‘zoned’ to their closest public school, but are ‘empowered’ to choose between a number of other options including: an ‘out of area’ public school; a specialist public or academically selective school; a Catholic systemic school; or an independent school.[4] School choice is not immune from criticism and has created new difficulties in the Australian education market, notably threatening the future of the public comprehensive school and also creating segregation along ethnic, income and religious lines.

This paper does not claim to be a comparative study in terms of addressing empirical similarities between the two countries. Rather, it compares the policy processes and practices in both Detroit and Sydney. Part II begins by examining residential segregation in the US, which has acted as a precursor for segregation within schools. Part II(A) then considers the role the Supreme Court has played in desegregating and resegregating public education in America. Part II(B) considers the long history of rigid segregation, discrimination and white flight in Detroit, before focusing on the momentous Milliken decision and its legacy. Part II(C) reinforces the significance of integration by looking at the multitude of benefits that an inclusive public education can generate. Part III turns the focus to Sydney, looking at the perennial problem of school choice and what effect the marketisation of education has had on Sydney schools, particularly the public comprehensive high school. Part III(A) focuses on racial segregation in Sydney high schools and attempts to determine whether race is a key driver of parental choice, leading to ‘white flight’ away from schools where there is higher concentrations of children from migrant backgrounds. Part III(B) concludes by looking at the harms that monocultural schools have on the future of Australian multiculturalism.


School districts were created by the state to fulfil their constitutional duty to educate children.[5] This commitment to the ideal of the ‘neighbourhood school’ and the tradition of local control of public schools has given rise to an inextricable link between residential and school segregation.[6] To best understand how so many black children end up in segregated schools, you need to look no further than the history of residential segregation in the US.[7] Despite recent US census data showing a slow decline in residential segregation between white and black Americans,[8] a century of neighbourhood segregation cannot simply be ignored. The 20th century gave rise to a phenomenon where nearly all of a city’s black population were contained in homogenous black neighbourhoods.[9] This had never been experienced by any other racial group in America.[10] This level of severe segregation was the result of deliberate actions on behalf of private, public and governmental actors.[11] Before and after the World War II housing boom, large scale-developers used racial zoning laws, homeowner associations and racially restrictive covenants to exclude African-Americans from the middle-class housing market.[12] The aim was to create ‘one-race, one-class neighbourhoods’.[13] This approach was actively endorsed by the Federal Housing Authority on the basis that it would increase property prices.[14] African-Americans and other minority groups were essentially ‘treated as a threat to property value’.[15] Although racially restrictive covenants were outlawed, it achieved little in stemming the widespread discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. Deed restrictions concerning maximum occupancy, property maintenance and minimum housing costs were ‘sophisticated efforts to a similar ends’ for developers.[16] These mechanisms established lasting pattern of housing segregation, the by-product of which was a largely white suburbia.[17] The persistently high levels of residential segregation had major ramifications for US public schools. If students are drawn from the local area near a school, and the local area is racially segregated, it is inevitable their school will be too. The problem is exacerbated when looking at inequality of school funding, as in most states public schools are substantially funded by local property taxes.[18] Wealthy suburban school districts are predominately white; poor inner-city schools are predominately African-American and Hispanic.[19] This pervasive, destructive and expensive social problem can therefore be partially traced back to a rule of private property law.

A Segregation and Resegregation of American Public Education

To put it bluntly, American education is once again separate and unequal. The nature of American public education would have been very different today had the Supreme Court decided a number of its key cases differently.[20] These cases may be categorised into three clear historical periods: segregation, desegregation and resegregation. Each historical period reflects how the Court conceived of the connection between residential and schooling segregation. With the Plessy v Ferguson decision in 1896, government-mandated segregation thrived in every southern state and in many of the northern states.[21] It was not until 1954, when the Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v Board of Education (‘Brown’) ruling, that separate but equal was deemed unconstitutional.[22] In a unanimous judgment, the Court struck down laws that forced black and white children to attend separate schools, holding that such laws were a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[23] Rather than ordering a remedy, the Court prudently announced that it would allow local school districts and legislative bodies to respond ‘with deliberate speed’.[24] However, remedies to rectify segregation were always bound to be a political, logistical and legal nightmare, due to the very real physical dimensions of segregation.[25] Black and white students lived miles apart in separate neighbourhoods and attended separate schools.[26] A year later, in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka (‘Brown II’), the Court confronted these difficulties and declared that the lower courts had broad and flexible powers to reshape remedies, relating to school transportation systems, school administration and personnel, the revision of school districts, and local laws and regulations in order to achieve ‘a system of determining admission to the public schools on a non-racial basis’.[27] However, there was ‘massive resistance’ to Brown, with southern states using a number of techniques to obstruct integration efforts.[28] For example, some school systems closed public schools rather than desegregate, while other school boards adopted ‘freedom of choice plans’ that allowed students to choose where they were enrolled, which perpetuated segregation.[29] In some cases, school systems completely disobeyed desegregation orders.[30]

The period that followed was a unique moment in American history, in that all three branches of government were ‘partners in progress’ in integration.[31] In 1964, pushed by President Lyndon B Johnson, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[32] It provided a powerful incentive to abide by Brown, as it gave government the power to withhold federal funds if the school districts did not eliminate desegregation.[33] In addition, the Supreme Court continued to expand the Brown ruling with a number of rulings starting in the mid 1960s.[34] Swann v Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education (‘Swann’) marked the Court’s most important desegregation decision.[35] It was the first schooling case to arise from a large metropolitan area, with an expanding racial ghetto, and it was the first and only metropolitan-wide desegregation decision.[36] The Court in Swann made three important observations. First, the Court commented on the reciprocal connection between housing and schooling and noted that manipulation in both areas had created ongoing segregation.[37] As such, neighbourhood school assignments modelled solely on geographic proximity were not discharging the school board’s duty to desegregate.[38] Second, the court held that assigning black children to white schools, regardless of the preferences of white families, was necessary to overcome a system built on racism. The Court stated that:

But all things are not equal in a system that has been deliberately constructed and maintained to enforce racial segregation. The remedy for such segregation may be administratively awkward, inconvenient and even bizarre in some situations, and may impose burdens on some; but all awkwardness and inconvenience cannot be avoided.[39]

Further, the school district had to do everything possible to eliminate school segregation.[40] Finally, the Court remarked that if there was proof of illegal housing discrimination by another level of government, then this would be sufficient to attract a housing remedy in a schooling case.[41] But absent any such proof of discrimination, the Court was limited to remedies only for education facilities, as ‘one vehicle could contain and carry only a limited amount of baggage’.[42] Swann would mark the last unanimous school desegregation decision by the Court.[43]

After Swann, America began to return to segregation. Once the courts started to mandate desegregation, white flight to suburban areas took hold.[44] White families began to withdraw their children from public schools and moved away to suburban areas in order to avoid the desegregation efforts taking place in the cities.[45] Effectively, ‘voting by mortgage’. In virtually all urban areas, the inner city comprised almost entirely of racial minority groups, whereas the surrounding suburbs were exclusively white.[46] Even where minority groups lived in the suburbs, they were almost entirely concentrated in enclaves that were predominately African-American.[47] The effect of white flight was that the remaining city public school population was almost exclusively black.[48] For example, by the 1980s, white Americans constituted less than one-third of students enrolled in public schools in Detroit, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Memphis.[49] The lack of white students in the cities posed a massive obstacle to segregation efforts. No amount of busing, attendance zone revision, pairing or clustering of schools within a city school district could achieve integration in a system with no white children.[50] Without an inter-district remedy any hopes of integration were futile.

Further, Swann was also followed by intense antibusing political activity that was picked up by future president Richard Nixon in his 1968 campaign.[51] Nixon capitalised on growing racial backlash amongst white blue-collar voters by attacking busing and defending neighbourhood schools.[52] He promised to appoint a Supreme Court that would oppose integration in schools.[53] Nixon made good on his election promises and appointed four conservative justices to the Supreme Court.[54] Prior to swearing in Justices Rehnquist and Powell, there is clear evidence to suggest that the Attorney-General exacted promises from the pair that they would oppose busing.[55] These four Justices were largely to blame for a series of 5-4 decisions in the 1970s that limited the reach of Brown.[56] Nixon had successfully set the stage for a radical shift away from court ordered integration into a new era of resegregation.

B Milliken, White Flight and Resegregation in Detroit

The decision of Milliken v Bradley in 1974 marked a ‘watershed moment’ and was a ‘window into America’s urban history and its future’.[57] Milliken involved the Detroit-area schools and unlike previous cases, which had involved only a single school district, the case involved a potential 85 separate school districts across 400 municipalities.[58] The Court was confronted with the reality of white flight, as Detroit was a mostly African-American city surrounded by white suburbia.[59] In 1973, 75 per cent of Detroit schools were black, while its suburbs were 85 per cent white.[60] The majority struck down the inter-district remedy that the federal district court had imposed to end de jure segregation in one of the districts.[61] Instead, the Court held that such an approach was prohibited and raised the bar for proving a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.[62] The Court held that before the boundaries of separate school districts may be set aside, it must be first shown that there has been a constitutional violation within one district that produces a significant segregative effect in another.[63] Consequently, Milliken had a devastating impact on the ability to achieve desegregation in a number of major cities.[64] Without an inter-district remedy, there were simply not enough white students in the city, or African-American students in the suburbs to achieve any form of substantive integration.[65]

At first instance, the District Court heard ten days of expert testimony on the ‘substantial, pervasive and longstanding’ residential segregation that was the result of ‘past and present’ racial discrimination.[66] The expert witness detailed at length the effects of race riots, racial bombings, racially restrictive covenants, mortgage lending discrimination, steering, state and federal housing policy.[67] However, the Supreme Court ignored the expert testimony, instead reaching the conclusion that segregated schools are caused by residential segregation alone, which is based on natural demographic shifts, incompatible preferences or private discrimination.[68] It is important to note that Justice Stewart dealt with the issue in a footnote, where he stated that the causes of residential segregation are ‘unknown and unknowable’.[69] Ironically, a few years earlier Justice Stewart was of a different opinion and had written that ‘when racial discrimination herds men into ghettos and makes their ability to buy property turn on the colour of their skin ... [it is a] relic of slavery’.[70] The wilful ignorance adopted by the court in the Milliken decision is dangerous. It completely overlooks the fact that the original bases for neighbourhood segregation were sanctioned and promoted by the state.[71] Rather than recognising the devastating and widespread effects of private property law, the Supreme Court has chosen to treat residential and housing segregation as separate problems to be addressed. School segregation is now seen as an urban problem that is out of reach from the courts.

Further, the effects of Milliken are still very much felt in Detroit today. It was inevitable after such a decision that white flight would accelerate, leaving Detroit’s suburbs even more racially segregated.[72] By 2010, 69 per cent of Detroit’s African-American population lived in neighbourhoods that were 75 per cent black and 80 per cent lived in neighbourhoods that were more than 50 per cent black.[73] In terms of schooling, Detroit had the third most racially segregated schools in 2010, amongst the nation’s 50 largest regions.[74] Further, in 2000, the average black Detroit student attended a school with less than two per cent white students.[75] The culmination of decades of segregation is evident in the achievement gap between white and black Detroit students. Take for example the following statistics from the most recent available data sets:[76]

• The average reading score of a black Grade 8 Detroit student was 235. The equivalent score for public school students in large cities was 257.

• The average score in mathematics of a black Grade 8 Detroit student was 242. The equivalent score for public school students in large cities was 274.

It was not possible to compare the average scores of the Detroit black student with white students in the same urban district, as white students made up only one per cent of students. However, across Michigan:[77]

• The average reading score of a black Grade 8 student in Michigan was 243. The equivalent score for a white student was 270.

• The average mathematics score of a black Grade 8 student in Michigan was 251. The equivalent score for a white student was 285.

• The average reading score of a black Grade 12 student in Michigan was 262. The equivalent score for a white student was 293.

• The average mathematics score of a black Grade 12 student in Michigan was 129. The equivalent score for a white student was 159.

At the precise moment when school desegregation began to threaten suburban schools, integration came to a frightened halt.[78] In Milliken, the Court sanctioned white flight and signalled to white America that it would protect it. If the question at the heart of the case was ‘could one black child have the right to cross the street to go to an integrated school in another school district?’,[79] the Supreme Court answered with a resounding no. The danger of this decision therefore lies in the fact that it has precluded courts from remedying the problem of racial disparities between public school districts. The Court cannot wash its hands of the significant role it has played in the segregation that exists within public schools in both Detroit and America today.

C Why Segregation Matters

Understanding the benefits of integration is critical because of the recent resegregation of American public education. Brown first held that ‘in the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate education facilities are inherently unequal’.[80] The Court based its decision on the importance of public education to effective citizenship and the right to ‘succeed in life’.[81] The consensus of six decades of social science literature since the Brown decision has confirmed the important educational and social benefits that racially diverse schools offer for children of all backgrounds.[82] In Parents Involved v Seattle School District No. 1 (‘Parents Involved’),[83] the Supreme Court was asked to assess the constitutionality of two school district plans intended to integrate racially diverse schools.[84] In making its decision, the Court was presented with evidence of the benefits of racially integrated schools. On the one hand, the pro-integration briefs were submitted by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and by a group of 553 social scientists.[85] Their extensive research demonstrated that integrated schools boost academic achievement, improved high school graduation rates and college attendance rates, as well as generating better jobs with better benefits and diverse future work environments.[86] In the long term, students who experienced interracial contact were more likely to live, work and attend college in more integrated settings.[87] Integrated classrooms have also been shown to improve race relations, increasing the likelihood and stability of interracial friendships.[88]

On the other hand, the anti-integration brief was prepared by six experts, only two of whom had been published in peer-reviewed studies on the topic.[89] Two of the six briefs reviewed the social science literature and concluded that integrated schools did not improve academic, long-term or social outcomes for students.[90] Another three simply argued that integration did not improve outcomes for students.[91] However, the Court flew in the face of the pro-integration research and rejected the plans in both cases. Justice Thomas unapologetically refused to endorse racial integration in his concurring judgment. He argued that black students could thrive in all-black environments and that ‘it is far from apparent that coerced racial mixing has any educational benefits, much less that integration is necessary to black achievement’.[92] However, it is clear that Justice Thomas attributes this belief to assumptions about racial inferiority, showing a complete lack of understanding of the structural level of racism that affects black students both inside and outside of the classroom.[93] Sixty years ago, Brown was decided upon the principles of democracy, citizenship and the equalising power of education. Not only does it continue to ring true today, but it has been vindicated time and time again by an overwhelming amount of social science research. The decision in Parents Involved effectively ‘rewrites the history of one of the Court’s most important decisions’,[94] leaving Brown’s long-delayed promise of equality and opportunity a distant reality.


We have seen the proliferation of ‘school choice’ policies in a number of developed countries, including in the US, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.[95] These policies reflect the ‘neoliberal conviction’ that educational outcomes can be improved if we allow parents to ‘vote with their feet’.[96] In the US, there have been various attempts to ‘marketise’ the public school system by producing ‘voucher’ and charter school schemes.[97] Such schemes are aimed at empowering parents to choose effective schools for their children within a particular educational market.[98] They are often associated with attempts to give black children, residing in the inner city, the opportunity to attend mainly white suburban schools.[99] Likewise, parental choice has cemented itself within education policy and rhetoric in Australia. A primary mechanism to promote school choice in New South Wales (‘NSW’) was the introduction of partial de-zoning.[100] Parents were not only able to send their children to their local ‘zoned’ public school, but also to other schools that were previously ‘out of area’.[101] Academically selective and specialist schools have also been de-zoned entirely.[102]

However, there are a number of basic differences in terms of the structure and history of public education in the US and Australia. This has resulted in a distinct Australian model of publicly supported private schools. First, Australia does not share the same history of racially restrictive covenants with the US. Although there are patterns of ethnic residential concentration in Sydney, enormous ethnic diversity among Australian immigrants has helped to prevent the large-scale segregation found in US cities.[103] This often occurs when incoming migrant groups replace another more established group that has chosen to move out and into better housing.[104] For example, when the Southeast Asian refugees arrived in the 1980s, they moved into housing formerly occupied by the Greeks and Italians, who themselves had replaced earlier post-war Eastern European refugees.[105] Second, there are two key differences in terms of school funding. As discussed above, public comprehensive schools in the US are funded by local property taxes and as a result can be well or poorly resourced, depending on the wealth and taxation arrangements of various states, cities and county governments.[106] In addition, the Supreme Court has interpreted the US Constitution as prohibiting government funding to religious schools.[107] In contrast, the majority of funding for Australian government schools comes from state and territory governments.[108] Another important feature of the Australian education landscape is that nearly all private or non-government schools receive some form of government funding or support.[109] Since the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972, federal government funding for private schools, known as ‘state aid’, has been entrenched as a policy priority.[110] Ever since federal funding of private schools was judicially accepted by the High Court in Attorney-General (Vic) (Ex rel Black) v Commonwealth (the DOGS case),[111] school funding in Australia has been framed in terms of ‘how much’ rather than ‘whether’.[112] This has completely changed the dynamic between public and private schools. This federal funding has made private schools look more attractive in terms of the physical facilities they offer and gives rise to claims of greater control over student body and teaching staff.[113] There is a perception that they offer a ‘leg up from the common public schooling’.[114] This has led to the third key difference between the two education systems. There is a higher proportion of students within the US public school system than Australia. For example, in 2013, private school students made up 9.7 per cent of all elementary and secondary school students.[115] In contrast, the share of national student enrolments in the public system in Australia was 65.4 per cent in 2016.[116] The Catholic share of enrolments was 20.4 per cent, and the Independent enrolment share was 14.4 per cent.[117]

Further, the marketisation of education has resulted in the comprehensive government high school suffering a considerable disadvantage.[118] The tradition of the neighbourhood institution serving the ‘community’ has fundamentally clashed with the market ideology of parental choice.[119] The research has suggested that in order to remain competitive, the public comprehensive school needs to be ‘rescued’ by becoming specialist in some way.[120] In fact, over the last 22 years, there has been a 955 per cent increase in the number of these specialist public schools.[121] There is a danger that if a school does not go down this path, there is a risk of becoming a ‘residual school’.[122] This is likely to have a negative impact on the perception of the school and its ability to develop a loyal population within the community.[123] Overall, there is uncertainty surrounding the future of the public comprehensive school, as a generation of middle-class parents overlook them in search of the 'right' school for their child.

A Sydney, Segregation and White Flight

School choice policies have cemented themselves within the Australian educational policy environment, extending as far as to present parental choice as a democratic right.[124] A large volume of research, however, has indicated that school choice policies are often linked to greater levels of segregation, along the lines of income, race and religion.[125] Who is to blame for this? The finger has been pointed at middle-class school choice, particularly the ‘privileged’ or the ‘skilled’ chooser.[126] Along with other developed nations, the urban middle-class in Australia, has been defined by their ‘connection to schooling’ and ‘the distinctive ways in which middle-class parents manage children and their schooling’.[127] Research in the US has shown that when it comes to choosing public schools, white and middle to upper income parents pay little attention to traditional markers of school quality, such as test scores, and instead base their decision on the socio-demographics of the school.[128] This includes whether there are ‘other’ high-status parents present.[129] As a result, school choice becomes almost entirely socially constructed. For Australia, Ho contends that race is a key driver of school choice, highlighting ‘white flight’ away from schools where there is a concentration of students from language backgrounds other than English.[130]

Previously, ‘white flight’ in Australian education had not generally been thought of as an issue.[131] However, Ho’s research into Sydney schools has revealed a deeply divided education system. Elite private schools operate as ‘bastions of whiteness’, whereas public schools (particularly selective schools) contain high percentages of students from a language background other than English (‘LBOTE’).[132] In 2011, students from a LBOTE background made up more than half of all enrolments in Sydney’s public high schools, while the figure was only 22 per cent in independent schools.[133] Catholic schools fared slightly better at 37 per cent.[134] The polarisation is quite evident within elite schools that recorded the strongest performances in the Higher School Certificate (‘HSC’). Table 1 in the Appendix contains the full list of these schools, and clearly demonstrates that cultural diversity in these schools is lower than their surrounding suburbs. For example, St Ignatius College in Lane Cove has six per cent of its students from a LBOTE. In comparison, nearby Hunters Hill High School and Chatswood High School have respectively 37 and 78 per cent of students from a LBOTE.[135] Similarly, Queenwood School in Mosman has two per cent LBOTE. In contrast, Mosman High has 31 per cent LBOTE.[136] Another example is Ravenswood, with 19 per cent of its students from a LBOTE, which contrasts with nearby Killara High School’s 53 per cent and St Ives High School’s 45 per cent.[137] Clearly, this demonstrates that within Sydney’s most wealthy suburbs, the ‘burden’ of educating children from migrant backgrounds falls on the comprehensive public school.

Turning to academically selective public schools, Ho notes an even stronger association with public education and migrant students.[138] Table 2 in the Appendix depicts the top 10 selective schools in NSW based on their 2016 HSC rank. It is evident that in almost all of these schools, the majority of students are from a LBOTE. However, there is no racial bias inherent within the admission requirements. Selection is determined by the Selective High School Placement Test and is open to any applicant.[139] This leaves open the possibility that families are self-segregating.[140] Migrant families opt into these selective schools as they offer academic success without the price tag of a private education.[141] However, it is likely that within white families, there is an increase in ethnicised parental anxiety.[142] White parents may be ‘shunning’ the public selective school for fear they are dominated by children from migrant backgrounds.[143] In particular, the dominant message that has played in the Australian media is that there are ‘too many Asians’ within these schools and that ‘Asian kids are taking over’.[144] Yet it is difficult to deduce whether these stereotypes are encouraging white flight. In effect, selective schools may be stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Further, in order to demonstrate that white flight is not just occurring at the elite level, Ho looks at the schools with the highest proportion of students from a LBOTE. Table 3 in the Appendix contains the full list of these schools, which all happen to be located within the southwest of Sydney. Despite the fact that these schools are located within suburbs that have high levels of ethnic concentration, these public comprehensive schools are disproportionately dominated by students from a LBOTE.[145] However, difficulties arise when determining where the white children living in these suburbs attend school. Although the private schools within these suburbs have lower LBOTE levels, approximately half of their students are still from a LBOTE.[146] This leaves one to assume that these children are traveling even further to attend schools that are not located within their local neighbourhoods.[147] If so, this would be in line with a slightly older New Zealand study that found that families with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to travel further in order to bypass local schools with heavy concentrations of students from a lower socioeconomic background.[148]

However, there are several limitations inherent in Ho’s approach to capture the phenomenon of white flight through a focused analysis of large data sets. In order to effectively uncover the extent to which white flight is fuelling enrolment in certain schools, bespoke social surveys of families with students attending such schools are required. This would successfully isolate the ‘white flight’ factor. In addition, in order to determine the LBOTE equivalent in surrounding suburbs, Ho has relied on Australian Bureau of Statistics data of census respondents who reported speaking another language other than English at home. Ho herself notes that this may be a somewhat ‘rough’ measure of cultural diversity, but defends her use of it on the grounds that it is still a standard measure of diversity in Australia.[149] Further research is necessary in order to determine the effects of segregation on academic performance, especially since levels of academic success are linked to levels of socioeconomic status and levels of parental education.[150]

B Why Segregation Matters

The history of racial segregation in Australia and the US are not mirror images of each other. In particular, Australia does not share the same experience of racially instituted segregation. However, this does not mean that ethnic segregation in Sydney schools is a nonissue. Rather, the success of our multicultural society depends on the ability of Australians developing the skills to negotiate across cultural differences.[151] Scholars of ‘everyday multiculturalism’ have stressed the importance of daily doses of cultural differences, in order to condition multiculturalism as part of our daily lives.[152] Schools are considered to be a ‘micropublic’, a site where people from different cultural backgrounds are ‘thrown together’ and unknowingly are forced to learn to live with one another.[153] Therefore schools play a crucial role in fostering a sense of intercultural understanding within their students. The emergence of these monocultural schools poses a direct threat and severely limits the cultural exposure that children would otherwise be getting within an environment more representative of the broader Australian society. As a result, students are not being prepared for the reality of a multicultural or a global society.[154] If current rates of segregation continue, we risk creating highly imbalanced school communities that reflect ‘unhealthy and unnatural bubbles of segregation and isolation’.[155]


In terms of education policy in Detroit and Sydney, it is clear that there are interesting times ahead. This paper has traversed the different policy practices and processes within these two cities but the central question at its heart has always remained: how should we educate our children? The traditional approach of the neighbourhood school has left the US struggling for decades with the problem of segregated schools. But even when adopting school choice policies that effectively remove the link to housing Sydney is still left with an element of racial segregation. How has this happened? The answer lies in the hands of middle-class parents. These parents have always retained the financial and social capital to be able to exercise the most choice, whether it be through ‘voting with their feet’ in Sydney or ‘voting with their mortgage’ in Detroit. However, any form of segregation should be cause for alarm, as it undermines the benefits of an inclusive education that was so eloquently articulated by Justice Marshall at the beginning of this paper.


Table 1: Percentage from language backgrounds other than English, selected schools and suburbs in Sydney

%LBOTE of school
%LBOTE of suburb
Wenona School, North Sydney
Kambala, Rose Bay
St Ignatius College, Lane Cove
SHORE, North Sydney
Queenwood School for Girls, Mosman
Loreto, Normanhurst
SCEGGS, Darlinghurst
Ravenswood School for Girls, Gordon
Ascham School, Edgecliff
Roseville College
Loreto, Kirribilli
St Catherine’s School, Waverley
Brigidine College, St Ives
Cranbrook School, Bellevue Hill
Reddam House, North Bondi
Barker College, Hornsby

Table 2: Percentage of students from language backgrounds other than English, top 10 selective schools in NSW (in order of 2016 HSC rank)

James Ruse Agricultural High School (Carlingford)
Baulkham Hills High School
North Sydney Boys High School (Crows Nest)
North Sydney Girls High School (Crows Nest)
Hornsby Girls High School
Sydney Boys High School (Surry Hills)
Northern Beaches Secondary College Manly Campus
Conservatorium High School (Sydney)
Normanhurst Boys High School
Sydney Girls High School (Surry Hills)

Table 3: Percentage from language backgrounds other than English, selected schools and suburbs in southwest Sydney

%LBOTE of school
%LBOTE of suburb
Auburn Girls High School
Punchbowl Boys High School
Canley Vale High School
Granville Boys High School
Wiley Park Girls High School
Bankstown Girls High School
Belmore Boys High School
Cabramatta High School
Birrong Boys High School
Birrong Girls High School
Sefton High School

[1] Milliken v Bradley, [1974] USSC 162; 418 US 717, 783 (Marshall J) (1974) (‘Milliken’).

[2] Brown v Board of Education, [1954] USSC 42; 347 US 483, 493 (1954) (‘Brown’).

[3] Craig Campbell and Geoffrey Sherrington, ‘The Public Comprehensive in New South Wales’ (2004) 7(1) Change: Transformations in Education 1, 4.

[4] Meghan Stacey, ‘“Middle–Class Parents” Educational Work in an Academically Selective Public High School’ (2015) 57 Critical Studies in Education 209, 211.

[5] Erica Frankenberg, ‘The Role of Residential Segregation in Contemporary School Segregation’ (2013) 45 Education and Urban Society 548, 548.

[6] Nancy A Denton, ‘The Persistence of Segregation: Links between Residential Segregation and School Segregation’ (1996) 80 Minnesota Law Review 795, 795.

[7] Denton, above n 6, 795.

[8] Frankenberg, above n 5, 549.

[9] Denton, above n 6, 802.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid 803.

[12] Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (Yale University Press, 1996) 75.

[13] Ibid 57.

[14] Ibid 58.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Erwin Chemerinsky, ‘The Segregation and Resegregation of American Public Education: The Court’s Role’ (2003) 81 North Carolina Law Review 1597, 1611.

[19] Ibid 1599.

[20] Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1601.

[21] Plessy v Ferguson, [1896] USSC 151; 163 US 537 (1896); Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1602.

[22] Brown[1954] USSC 42; , 347 US 483 (1954); Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1604.

[23] Brown[1954] USSC 42; , 347 US 483, 495 (Warren CJ) (1954).

[24] Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, [1955] USSC 59; 349 US 294, 301 (1955) (‘Brown II’).

[25] Erica Frankenberg and Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, ‘Public Decisions and Private Choices: Reassessing the School-Housing Segregation Link in the Post-Parents Involved Era’ (2013) 48 Wake Forest Law Review 397, 404.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Brown II[1955] USSC 59; , 349 US 294, 300–1 (1955).

[28] Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1603.

[29] Ibid 1602.

[30] Ibid 1602–3.

[31] Myron Orfield, ‘Milliken, Meredith, and Metropolitan Segregation’ (2015) 62 University of California Law Review 364, 373.

[32] Pub L No 88-352, 78 Stat 241; Nikole Hannah-Jones, ‘Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City’, New York Times (online), 9 June 2016 <>.

[33] Orfield, above n 31, 373; Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1603.

[34] Green v County Schooling Board of New Kent County, [1968] USSC 103; 391 US 430 (1968); Wright v City of Emporia, [1972] USSC 153; 407 US 451 (1972); Keyes v School District No 1[1973] USSC 189; , 413 US 189 (1973).

[35] Swann v Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education, [1971] USSC 121; 402 US 1 (1971) (‘Swann’).

[36] Orfield, above n 31, 381.

[37] Ibid 382.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Swann[1971] USSC 121; , 402 US 1, 28 (1971).

[40] Orfield, above n 31, 382.

[41] Ibid 383.

[42] Swann[1971] USSC 121; , 402 US 1, 22 (1971).

[43] Orfield, above n 31, 384.

[44] Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1605.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Orfield, above n 31, 369.

[52] James E Ryan and Michael Heise, 'The Political Economy of School Choice' [2002] YaleLawJl 9; (2002) 111 Yale Law Journal 2043, 2053.

[53] Orfield, above n 31, 369.

[54] Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1601.

[55] Orfield, above n 31, 385.

[56] Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1601.

[57] Orfield, above n 31, 367.

[58] Ibid 397.

[59] Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1607.

[60] Orfield, above n 31, 409.

[61] Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1607.

[62] Ryan and Heise, above n 55, 2052.

[63] Chemerinsky, above n 18, 1607.

[64] Ibid 1608.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Orfield, above n 31, 399.

[67] Ibid 400.

[68] Ibid 428.

[69] Ibid 412.

[70] Jones v Alfred H Mayer Co, [1968] USSC 159; 392 US 409, 441–3 (1968); Orfield, above n 31, 412.

[71] Denton, above n 6, 812.

[72] Orfield, above n 31, 450.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid 447.

[75] Ibid.

[76] National Centre for Education Statistics, 2015 Reading Trial Urban District Snapshot Report: Detroit, Grade 8, Public Schools (2015) <>; National Centre for Education Statistics, 2015 Mathematics Trial Urban District Snapshot Report: Detroit, Grade 8, Public Schools (2015) <>.

[77] National Centre for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Education Progress State Comparisons (2017) <> .

[78] Ryan and Heise, above n 55, 2046.

[79] Orfield, above n 31, 414.

[80] Brown[1954] USSC 42; , 347 US 483, 495 (1954).

[81] Orfield, above n 31, 424.

[82] Frankenberg and Siegel-Hawley, above n 27, 397.

[83] 551 US 701 (2007).

[84] Orfield, above n 31, 424.

[85] Ibid 425.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Ibid

[88] Ibid 426.

[89] Ibid 424.

[90] Ibid 427.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Parents Involved v Seattle School District No 1, 551 US 701, 761 (2007).

[93] See Benjamin Blaisdell, ‘Schools as Racial Spaces: Understanding and Resisting Structural Racism’ (2015) 29 International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 248.

[94] Parents Involved v Seattle School District No 1, 551 US 701, 799 (2007).

[95] Cathy Sherry and Hazel Easthope, ‘Under-supply of Schooling in the Gentrified and Regenerated Inner City’ (2016) 56 Cities 16, 19.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Campbell and Sherrington, above n 3, 3–4.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Ibid 4.

[100] Kalervo N Gulson, ‘Repositioning Schooling in Inner Sydney: Urban Renewal, an Education Market and the “Absent Presence” of the “Middle Classes”’ (2007) 44(7) Urban Studies 1376, 1382.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Sherry and Easthope, above n 99, 19.

[103] Barbara Edgar, ‘An Intergenerational Model of Spatial Assimilation in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’ (2014) 40 Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 363, 379.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Ibid 379–8.

[106] Campbell and Sherrington, above n 3, 3.

[107] Ibid.

[108] Kevin Donnelly, ‘School Choice in Australia: An Overview of the Rules and Facts’ (2012) 6 Journal of School Choice 290, 292.

[109] Campbell and Sherrington, above n 3, 4.

[110] Leila Morsy, Kalervo Gulson and Matthew Clarke, ‘Democracy, “Sector-Blindness” and the Delegitimation of Dissent in Neoliberal Education Policy: A Response to Discourse 34(2), May 2013’ (2013) 35(3) Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 444, 447.

[111] (1981) 146 CLR 559.

[112] Morsy, Gulson and Clarke, above n 114, 450.

[113] Campbell and Sherrington, above n 3, 12.

[114] Morsy, Gulson and Clarke, above n 114, 450.

[115] National Centre for Education Statistics, Fast Facts: Public and Private School Comparison (2017) <>.

[116] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4221.0 – Schools, Australia, 2016 (2 February 2017) <> .

[117] Ibid.

[118] Campbell and Sherrington, above n 3, 1.

[119] Ibid 12.

[120] Ibid 7, 12.

[121] Stacey, above n 4, 211.

[122] Campbell and Sherrington, above n 3, 12.

[123] Ibid.

[124] Christina Ho, ‘People Like Us’: School Choice, Multiculturalism and Segregation in Sydney (August 2015) Australian Review of Public Affairs <> .

[125] Emma E Rowe and Christopher Lubienski, 'Shopping for Schools or Shopping for Peers: Public Schools and Catchment Area Segregation' (2017) 32 Journal of Education Policy 340, 353.

[126] Ibid 342.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Ibid.

[129] Ibid.

[130] Ibid.

[131] R W Connell, ‘Working-Class Families and the New Secondary Education’ (2003) 47 Australian Journal of Education 235, 247.

[132] Christina Ho, ‘People Like Us’: School Choice, Multiculturalism and Segregation in Sydney, above n 124.

[133] Christina Ho, ‘My School’ and Others: Segregation in White Flight (May 2011) <>.

[134] Ibid.

[135] My School, Hunters Hill High School, Hunters Hill, NSW (2017) <>.

[136] My School, Mosman High School, Mosman, NSW (2017) <>.

[137] My School, Killara High School, Killara, NSW (2017) <>; My School, St Ives High School, St Ives, NSW (2017) <>.

[138] Christina Ho, ‘My School’ and Others: Segregation in White Flight, above n 133.

[139] It should be noted that there is some concern that wealthy families are able to game the system by engaging expensive tutoring services: Pallavi Singhal, ‘Selective Entry Test to be Overhauled Amid Coaching Concerns’ The Sydney Morning Herald (online), 21 July 2017 <> .

[140] Ibid.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Megan Watkins, Christina Ho and Rose Butler, ‘Asian Migration and Education Cultures in the Anglo-Sphere’ (2017) 43 Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 1, 1.

[143] Christina Ho, ‘My School’ and Others: Segregation in White Flight, above n 133.

[144] See, eg, Henrietta Cook, ‘How Much Domination Will We Accept?: The Truth about Selective Schools’, The Age (online), 9 March 2017 <> Rosemary Neill, ‘“Hyper–racialised” Selective Schools Broaden the Ethnic Divide’, The Australian (online), 5 November 2016 <> Kelsey Munro, ‘Selective Schools Drive Tutoring Industry as Students Strive to Keep Up’, The Sydney Morning Herald (online), 27 January 2017 <> Helen Proctor and Arathi Sriprakash, ‘Selective Schools’ Long and Tangled History with Race and Class’, The Sydney Morning Herald (online), 29 March 2017 <> .

[145] Christina Ho, ‘My School’ and Others: Segregation in White Flight, above n 133.

[146] Ibid.

[147] Ibid.

[148] See Sietske Waslander and Martin Thrupp, ‘Choice, Competition and Segregation: An Empirical Analysis of a New Zealand Secondary School Market, 1990–1993’ 10 Journal of Education Policy 1.

[149] Ibid.

[150] See Jane Kenway, ‘Challenging Inequality in Australian Schools: Gonski and Beyond’ (2013) 34 Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 286.

[151] Christina Ho, ‘My School’ and Others: Segregation in White Flight, above n 133.

[152] Ibid.

[153] Christina Ho, ‘People Like Us’: School Choice, Multiculturalism and Segregation in Sydney, above n 124.

[154] Christina Ho, ‘My School’ and Others: Segregation in White Flight, above n 133.

[155] Ibid.

[156] The author has updated Ho’s analysis of My School and Australian Bureau of Statistics data to reflect the 2016 data.

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