Josh Gagne, Doctoral candidate at Stanford Graduate School of Education
The Racial Democracy Myth and "Color-Blind" Segregation within Brazilian Primary Schools
At small scales, substantial segregation can occur simply by chance. Classroom segregation is a classic case of micro-segregation believed to be produced by sorting policies like within-school ability tracking and manipulation by school actors. This paper introduces another mechanism: segregation by chance. I draw on the case of racial segregation between classrooms in Brazil, where sorting is rare, to demonstrate the importance of segregation by chance. Using biennial surveys of the full 5th grade public school population of Brazil in 2011-2015, I show that classroom segregation within schools is, unexpectedly, a greater driver of racial composition differences than segregation between schools, municipalities, and regions. I take a novel methodological approach to measuring how much segregation occurs by chance in the context of dynamic group assignment, a conceptual advancement better suited to informing policy, practice, and research in organizational settings. I find that segregation by chance accounts for 75% of classroom segregation, or about 30% of all racial segregation in the Brazilian public school system. An instrumental variable analysis offers suggestive evidence that this segregation by chance tends to cause within-school white-nonwhite disparities in classroom achievement and teachers’ expectations of students, which may lead to disparate teaching practices. In addition to introducing a potent mechanism to the classroom segregation literature, this analysis demonstrates the importance of micro-segregation by chance while pushing scholars to rethink how it has been measured and conceptualized in the segregation measurement literature for half a century. Finally, the findings speak to the importance of race consciousness for organizing egalitarian institutions.