Parents' School Racial-Composition Preferences

Awarded Scholars:
Shira Gabriel, SUNY Buffalo
Shelley Kimelberg, SUNY Buffalo
Project Date:
Nov 2016
Award Amount:

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the racial composition of individual schools and school districts influences where parents, especially whites, choose to enroll their children. For example, as the proportion of nonwhite students in a district increases, the likelihood that parents will enroll their children in charter or private schools, or move to a different school district, increases as well. At the same time, some parents value racial diversity in schools and cite it as a factor that attracts them to urban public schools. To date, however, few studies have attempted to quantify parents’ school racial-composition preferences or to operationalize what parents mean when they refer to “racial diversity” in schools.

Psychologist Shira Gabriel and sociologist Shelley Kimelberg will measure the classroom racial-composition preferences of parents of young children living in Buffalo, NY, and examine to what extent those preferences are influenced by additional information about the classroom, specifically, the socioeconomic composition and average test scores of the students. They will also examine the degree to which parents’ implicit and explicit attitudes about race and class influence their preferences.

They will measure attitudes about race and class using traditional explicit questionnaires and also computerized implicit measures that are less susceptible to social desirability bias. In addition, they have developed a method to estimate the degree to which classroom preferences are a function of pure racial attitudes versus beliefs about income and academic performance (two factors commonly correlated with racial minorities in public schools) by combining components from approaches employed in studies of neighborhood desirability and neighborhood preferences, as well as racial bias in policing.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.