International comparison on Social Diversity at School

What are other countries doing for social diversity at school?

Experiences, results and difficulties
International Report realized by Cnesco and Conseil Supérieur de l’Education du Québec

Cnesco and the CSE got into partnership to study policies in place in some OECD countries, dealing with social diversity at school. Here are some examples of these policies contents and results – when they have been evaluated. Some have been successful, when others have a less striking BILAN. However, in every case these policies were implemented on a long-term perspective and had to overcome obstacles. 


USA: in Cambridge (Massachusetts), parents’ school choice is supervised

In Cambridge there is no school mapping and parents have to establish a three-choices list when they put their children in school. The local authority can then attribute schools regarding both the parents’ wishes and the social diversity policies within the different schools.

It was feared that families would put their children in private schools in order to avoid this rule but it actually never happened and the rate of children going to public school increased compared to the one of children enrolled in the private system; therefore, this system has been judged efficient.

USA: a lottery to integrate socially disadvantaged students to enter private school (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

This measure’s goal is to make the city’s private schools accessible. The city funds the academic fee of all students whose family’s income isn’t more than 175% of the poverty line. Parents can submit their demands to every school in their region.

Private education generally increases segregation within the system and stands in the way of public policies trying to improve social diversity, since they allow people to go around the legal attribution of schools. Therefore making private schools more accessible is a way to counter its negative effects. The random selection of children can be proven efficient if admission criteria are controlled and parents well informed.

Netherlands: Social diversity policies at school’s decentralization

Social diversity policy

In Netherlands sectorization never existed and segregation is rather new and mainly comes from international immigration.

Dutch Government allowed municipalities to try out different methods in order to foster social diversity within schools. Two of them, Deventer and Nimegen set up a controlled choice policy where parents have to choose between three or six schools. Then, in order to determine which child goes to which school, local authorities apply priority ranking depending on siblings, geographical location and the 30% rate of socially disadvantaged students who have to be enrolled in each school.


This recent experience has not yet been evaluated. The main goal of this policy is to counter middle-class families who avoid their nearest schools when they try to put their children in better school outside of their perimeter. Preliminary ratings on this experience show that 95% of parents were able to get their first choice. Knowing if this number means that the diversity level has not evolved much or if parents truly changed their choices, still has to be determined.

French speaking Belgium: priority registration for some profiles

Social diversity policy

Belgium has always let parents freely choose their child’s school. However, this policy of competition between schools leads to the rise of a strong social and academic segregation between the different schools. The French-speaking community then decided to control the enrollments in order to better socially balance schools.

The standardization of registration’s dates allowed family to be better informed and authorities to determined which profiles should be authorized to get into schools before the official openings of registrations. They also demanded schools to apply the first-come, first-saved rule in addition to the fact that admission lists are now accessible to everyone.

USA: mandatory transportation to take students to socially diverse schools


The first big public policies regarding the fight against school segregation started in the USA especially with “busing” policies. This policy consists in taking a student who normally would have attended a highly segregated school to another one located in a more racially diverse neighborhood.

Results are reserved since, contrary to other measures linked to the Civil Rights movement, it never managed to get strong political and popular support (4% of white people and 9% of black people according to a 1970 Gallup survey). Students sometimes had to travel long distances, in some cases they almost had to go through a whole city in order to reach their designated school. The success of children who had to abide by the “busing” system is still to prove and most of the local authorities involved have given up over the years.