The Urban Review

, Volume 48, Issue 5, pp 668–695 | Cite as

The Social Geography of Choice: Neighborhoods’ Role in Students’ Navigation of School Choice Policy in Chicago

  • Kate L. PhillippoEmail author
  • Briellen Griffin


This study extends research on school choice policy, and on the geography of educational opportunity, by exploring how students understand their school choices and select from them within social-geographical space. Using a conceptual framework that draws from situated social cognition and recent research on neighborhood effects, this study explores the experiences of 36 students seeking admission to high school in Chicago Public Schools, a large urban district that offered 130 high school options the year of data collection. Our findings reveal that students’ choice processes were geographically specific, and mirrored spatial patterns of power and privilege in Chicago. This article concludes with a discussion of findings’ implications for socially and spatially equitable school choice policy, and for subsequent research on the geography of educational opportunity.


School choice policy High school admissions Geography of opportunity Urban high schools High school students 



The authors wish to thank Annmarie Valdes, Landis Fryer and Zareen Kamal for their assistance with data collection, preparation and analysis, David Treering for his preparation of this article's map figures, and Linn Posey-Maddox, Pamela Quiroz and The Urban Review’s anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on previous drafts of this manuscript.


  1. Bargh, J. A. (1997). The automaticity of everyday life. In R. S. Wyer (Ed.), Advances in social cognition (Vol. X, pp. 1–61). Mahway: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  2. Bell, C. A. (2007). Space and place: Urban parents’ geographical preferences for schools. The Urban Review, 39(4), 375–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bell, C. (2009a). Geography in parental choice. American Journal of Education, 115(4), 493–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bell, C. (2009b). All choices created equal? The role of choice sets in the selection of schools. Peabody Journal of Education, 84(2), 191–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belsa, K., & Sanchez, M. (2015). A surprise co-location among proposed ‘school actions’. Catalyst Chicago.
  6. Berliner, D. (2006). Our impoverished view of educational reform. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 949–995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berliner, D. (2013). Effects of inequality and poverty vs. teachers and schooling on America’s youth. Teachers College Record, 115(12), 1–26.Google Scholar
  8. Berube, A. (2014). All cities are not created equal Metropolitan Opportunity Series. Washington: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  9. Bradford, D. (2014). Families should be free to move children from failing schools. Indianapolis Recorder (12/11/14), retrieved online at
  10. Briggs, X. D. (2003). Housing opportunity, desegregation strategy, and policy research. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 22(2), 201–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Briggs, X. D. (2005). The geography of opportunity: Race and housing choice in Metropolitan America. Washington: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  12. Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Allensworth, E., Luppescu, S., & Easton, J. Q. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  13. Buendía, E. (2011). Reconsidering the Urban in Urban education: Interdisciplinary conversations. The Urban Review, 43(1), 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chicago Public Schools (2016). Find a school.
  15. Coates, T. (2014). The case for reparations. The Atlantic,
  16. Condliffe, B. F., Boyd, M. L., & DeLuca, S. M. (2015). Stuck in school: How social context shapes school choice for inner-city students. Teachers College Record, 117, 1–36.Google Scholar
  17. Condron, D., & Roscigno, V. (2003). Disparities within: Unequal spending and achievement in an urban school district. Sociology of Education, 76(1), 18–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cox, T. (2015). Your rush-hour CTA commute could be getting more croweded. DNAinfo,
  19. Cucchiara, M. (2013). Marketing schools, marketing cities: Who wins and who loses when schools become urban amenities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Danns, D. (2014). Desegregating Chicago’s schools: Policy implementation, politics and protest, 1965–1985. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. de La Torre, M., Gordon, M. F., Moore, P., & Cowhy, J. (2015). School closings in Chicago: Understanding families’ choices and constraints for new school enrollment. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research.Google Scholar
  22. Dean, T. (2016). BOE approves consolidation of Austin High Campus. Austin Weekly News. Retrieved from
  23. Ehrenhalt, A. (2012). The great inversion and the future of the American city. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  24. Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (2011). Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Galster, G. C., & Killen, S. P. (1995). The geography of metropolitan opportunity: Reconnaissance and conceptual framework. Housing Policy Debate, 6(1), 7–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gold, E., Evans, S. A., Haxton, C., Maluk, H., Mitchell, C., & Simon, E., et al. (2010). Transition to high school: School “choice” and freshman year in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Research for Action (9–48). Retrieved 7/10/14 at
  27. Goozner, M., Norris, M. L., & Griffin, J. L. (1988). Chicago schools “worst in America”. Chicago: Chicago Tribune.Google Scholar
  28. Goyette, K. (2014). Setting the context. In A. Lareau & K. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing homes, choosing schools (pp. 1–24). New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  29. Green, T. L. (2015). Places of inequality, places of possibility: Mapping “opportunity in geography” across urban school-communities. Urban Review, 47, 717–741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gregory, S. (1970). Hey, white girl!. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  31. Gustafson, K. (2011). No-go-area, no-go-school: Community discourses, local school market and children’s identity work. Children’s Geographies, 9(2), 185–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hinz, G. (2007). Globalization splits Chicago’s economy. Crain’s Chicago Business.
  33. Hirsch, A. R. (1998). Making the second ghetto: Race and housing in Chicago, 1940–1960. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Karp, S. (2013). Jones college prep to add selective seats. Chicago Catalyst.
  35. Kimelberg, S. M. (2014). Middle-class parents, risk and urban public schools. In A. Lareau & K. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing homes, choosing schools (pp. 207–236). New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  36. Kotlowitz, A. (1991). There are no children here: The story of two boys growing up in the other America. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  37. Kotok, S., Frankenberg, E., Schafft, K. A., Mann, B. A., & Fuller, E. J. (2015). School choice, racial segregation, and poverty concentration: Evidence from Pennsylvania charter school transfers. Educational Policy,. doi: 10.1177/0895904815604112.Google Scholar
  38. Lareau, A. (2014). Schools, housing and the reproduction of inequality. In A. Lareau & K. A. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing homes, choosing schools (pp. 169–206). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  39. Lipman, P. (2004). High stakes education: Inequality, globalization and urban school reform. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lipman, P., Vaughan, K., & Gutirrez, R. R. (2014). Root shock: Parents’ perspectives on school closings in Chicago. Chicago: University of Illinois, Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education.Google Scholar
  41. Lutton, L., & Vevea, B. (2015). Chicago has a school with 13 freshmen. WBEZ News.
  42. Massey, D. (1993). Politics and space/time. In M. Keith & S. Pile (Eds.), Place and the politics of identity (pp. 141–161). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  43. Massey, D. (1994). Space, place, and gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  44. McVeigh, K. (2013). Hadiya Pendleton: Murdered honors student and symbol of Chicago violence. The Guardian, retrieved from
  45. Menefee-Libey, D. (2010). Neoliberal school reform in Chicago? Renaissance 2010, portfolios of schools and diverse providers (55-90). In K. Bulkley, J. Henig, & H. Levin (Eds.), Between public and private: Politics, governance, and the new portfolio models for Urban school reform (pp. 55–90). Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  46. Miller, P. (2012). Mapping educational opportunity zones: A geospatial analysis of neighborhood block groups. Urban Review, 44, 189–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Neely, B., & Samura, S. (2011). Social geographies of race: Connecting race and space. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 34(11), 1933–1952.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Nisbett, R. E., & Ross, L. D. (1980). Human inference: Strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  49. Novak, T. (2014). Tab for Jones College Prep could reach $127 million. Chicago Sun-Times,
  50. Pattillo, M. (2015). Everyday politics of school choice in the black community. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 12(1), 41–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pattillo, M., Delale-O’Connor, L., & Butts, F. (2014). High-stakes choosing. In A. Lareau & K. A. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing homes, choosing schools. New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  52. Payne, C. M. (2008). So much reform, so little change: The persistence of failure in urban schools. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  53. Perez, J. (2015). Dyett high school hunger strike ends. Chicago Tribune.
  54. Phillippo, K., Griffin, B., & DelDotto, J. (2016). Youth experiences of competitive school choice policy: An analysis of developmental stage-policy fit. Washington: American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting.Google Scholar
  55. Putnam, R. (2015). Our kids: The American dream in crisis. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  56. Quiroz, P. A., Milam-Brooks, K., & Adams-Romena, D. (2014). School as solution to the problem of urban place: Student migration, perceptions of safety, and children’s concept of community. Childhood, 21, 207–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Reardon, S. (2011). The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations. In G. J. Duncan & R. J. Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools and children’s life chances (pp. 91–115). New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  58. Reardon, T. (2012). Comparative analysis of Boston public school proposed assignment plans. Boston: Metropolitan Area Planning Council.Google Scholar
  59. Rhodes, A., & DeLuca, S. (2014). Residential mobility and school choice among poor families. In A. Lareau & K. Goyette (Eds.), Choosing homes, choosing schools (pp. 137–166). New York: Sage.Google Scholar
  60. Roda, A., & Wells, A. S. (2013). School choice policies and racial segregation: Where white parents’ good intentions, anxiety and privilege collide. American Journal of Education, 119(2), 261–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rucker, P. (2013). Michelle Obama mourns slain teenager at Chicago funeral. Washington Post, retrieved from
  62. Rury, J. (1999). Race, space, and the politics of Chicago’s public schools: Benjamin Willis and the tragedy of urban education. History of Education Quarterly, 39(2), 117–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Saldaña, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  64. Sampson, R. J. (2013). Great American city: Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  65. Sanders, J. W. (1977). The education of an urban minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833–1965. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Sanders, W. (2006). Private schools and school enrollment in Chicago. Chicago Fed Letter, 231. Chicago: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Retrieved from
  67. Saporito, S. (2003). Private choices, public consequences: Magnet school choice and segregation by race and poverty. Social Problems, 50(2), 181–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sassen, S. (2004). A global city: Introducing a concept. In C. Madigan (Ed.), Global Chicago (pp. 15–34). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  69. Sattin-Bajaj, C. (2014). Unaccompanied minors: Immigrant youth, school choice and the pursuit of equity. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  70. Semin, G. R., Garrido, M. V., & Palma, T. A. (2012). Socially situated cognition: Recasting social cognition as an emergent phenomenon. In S. Fiske & C. N. Macrae (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of social congition (pp. 138–164). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sharkey, P. (2012). Residential mobility and the reproduction of unequal neighborhoods. Cityscape, 14(3), 9–31.Google Scholar
  72. Shipps, D. (2006). School reform, corporate style: Chicago, 1880–2000. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.Google Scholar
  73. Soja, E. (2010). Seeking spatial justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Squires, G. D., Bennett, L., McCourt, K., & Nyden, P. (1987). Chicago: Class, race and the response to urban decline. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Squires, G. D., & Kubrin, C. E. (2005). Privileged places: Race, uneven development and the geography of opportunity in urban America. Urban Studies, 42(47), 47–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Stevens, W. D., de La Torre, M., & Johnson, D. W. (2011). High school choice: Processes and outcomes in Chicago. In M. Berends, M. Cannata, & E. Goldring (Eds.), School choice and school improvement (pp. 124–146). Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  77. Tate, W. F. (2008). “Geography of opportunity”: Poverty, place, and educational outcomes. Educational Researcher, 37(7), 397–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Teaford, J. C. (1990). The rough road to renaissance: Urban revitalization in America, 1940–1985. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Wells, A. S. (1993). The sociology of choice: Why some win and others lose in the educational marketplace. In E. Rasell & R. Rothsetin (Eds.), School choice: Examining the evidence. Washington: Economic Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  80. Wells, A. S., Ready, D., Duran, J., Grzesikowski, C., Hill, K., Roda, A. Miya, et al. (2012). Still separate, still unequal, but not always so “suburban”. In W. Tate (Ed.), Research on schools, neighborhoods, and communities (pp. 125–149). Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  81. Wilson, S. G., Plane, D. A., Mackun, P. J., Fischette, T. R., & Goworowska, J. (2012). Patterns of metropolitan and micropolitan population change: 2000–2010. Washington: US Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  82. Yin, R. K. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  83. Yoon, E. (2016). Young people’s cartographies of school choice: The urban imaginary and moral panic. Children’s Geographies, 14(1), 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationLoyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.University of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations