Increased school choice does little to enhance the educational opportunities of black pupils, a report suggests.
Parents in three local authority areas were interviewed
A snapshot survey of black ethnic minority parents suggests they find it difficult to exercise choice and that this can lead to further segregation.
Campaign group The Runnymede Trust said many found the complexities in applying to selective schools off-putting.
The government said £12m was being spent on advisers to help parents make the best choices for their child.
Researchers based their findings on in-depth interviews and discussion groups with 177 black parents in three local authority areas - as well as on written questionnaires.
They found that because many parents find it difficult to exercise choice, they downgraded their options before selecting schools.
Those with English as a second language tended to choose the school closest to them - although some would travel some distance to single sex schools.
Parents trying to get their children into schools in local authority areas with a high number of schools that control their own admissions, found the process especially difficult, the report said.
The report said that a desire to address the underachievement of black and Muslim pupils had prompted parents to target schools which cater specifically for the needs of their children.
Added to this, some parents believed the commitment of staff in black- or Asian-majority schools was often low, it said.
Parents thought this was due to poor home-school relationships or teachers' perception that black children were "underachieving and problematic".
Choice policies could also lead to young people from different ethnic groups being kept apart, the report argued.
It said: "If schools are seen as important sites for encouraging young people from different ethnic backgrounds to meet and learn from each other, choice policies can operate in precisely the opposite direction."
It added: "One of the most important things to consider within this debate, however, is that many parents were unable to exercise choice.
"They were able to express a list of preferences on an application form and many of them, particularly those from lower socio-economic groups, were successful in getting their first or second choices.
"For the vast majority, however, the preference expressed did not at all reflect actual choice."
The report added that, although it had ignored the link between choice and educational success and failure, it was entirely possible that the inability to exercise choice could lead to lower results at GCSE.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "The idea of a racial divide in schools is simply not a picture we recognise.
"We want to give all parents the support they need to make the best choices for their child - which is precisely why we are investing £12m for choice advisers who will offer tailored advice to individual needs and circumstances.
"However, we refuse to be complacent about this issue.
"A wide variety of information is already available to help parents make decisions but we know that not all parents are accessing this and many still find it difficult to navigate the admissions system - particularly when it comes to finding a secondary school."
Claire Alexander, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, said racial and ethnic disadvantage made the issue of knowledge and choice particularly problematic.
This was both because of a lack of expertise and knowledge of the system and because of "the structural constraints on the choices available to parents in economically-deprived areas".