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The Fragmentation of Metropolitan Public School Districts and the Segregation of American Schools: A Longitudinal Analysis


by Meredith P. Richards & Kori J. Stroub — 2014

Context: Scholars have increasingly raised concerns about the “fragmentation” or proliferation of metropolitan public school districts, citing the potential for fragmentation to facilitate racial/ethnic segregation by permitting individuals to sort more efficiently across district boundaries. In addition, scholars have expressed particular concern about the rapid growth of charter districts and their potential to exacerbate segregation.

Purpose of Study: In this study, we provide initial evidence on the effect of public school district fragmentation on the trajectory of racial/ethnic segregation in metropolitan areas, attending to the differential effects of regular school district fragmentation as well as charter district fragmentation.

Research Design: Using NCES Common Core data for the 2002–2010 school years, we computed measures of regular public school district fragmentation and charter district fragmentation as well as nine measures of racial/ethnic segregation for all 366 U.S. metropolitan areas (3 geographic × 3 racial/ethnic decompositions). We then estimated a series of multilevel longitudinal models predicting change in each measure of segregation as a function of regular and charter school district fragmentation.

Results: We found that school district fragmentation is unrelated to the overall level of segregation in a metropolitan area. More fragmented metropolitan areas have higher levels of segregation across districts than less fragmented metropolitan areas; however, they have lower levels of segregation within districts and equivalent levels of total metropolitan segregation. Likewise, school district fragmentation was not associated with worsening segregation over time or with attenuation of the secular trend toward declining segregation. More fragmented metropolitan areas had smaller declines in between-district segregation over the study period than less fragmented metropolitan areas; however, they had equivalent declines in within-district and total metropolitan segregation. In addition, charter district fragmentation was unrelated to the level or trajectory of school segregation in a metropolitan area.

Conclusions: Our results provide a somewhat more sanguine assessment of school district fragmentation than previous research. We found that the fragmentation of regular public school districts serves to shift the geographic scale of segregation from within districts to between districts; however, fragmentation does not exacerbate metropolitan racial/ethnic segregation. In addition, despite the rapid growth of charter districts, we find no evidence that charter district fragmentation has worsened overall metropolitan racial/ethnic segregation. Moreover, metropolitan areas are not experiencing the “fragmentation” of their traditional public school districts; rather, traditional school districts are consolidating despite increasing enrollment.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 12, 2014, p. 1-30
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17693, Date Accessed: 2/25/2017 10:20:08 PM

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About the Author
  • Meredith Richards
    Southern Methodist University
    E-mail Author
    MEREDITH P. RICHARDS is an assistant professor of education policy and leadership at Southern Methodist University. Her research focuses on exploring the effects of educational policies on equity and stratification in schools and situating policies in their metropolitan and geographic contexts. Recent publications include: Richards, M. P. (Forthcoming). The gerrymandering of school attendance zones and the segregation of American schools: A geospatial analysis. American Educational Research Journal; Richards, M. P., & Stroub, K. J. (Forthcoming). An accident of geography? Assessing the gerrymandering of public school attendance zones. Teachers College Record, 17(7); and Stroub, K. J., & Richards, M. P. (2013). From resegregation to reintegration: Trends in metropolitan school segregation, 1993-2010. American Educational Research Journal, 50(3), 497–531.
  • Kori Stroub
    University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    KORI J. STROUB is a doctoral student in education policy at the University of Texas at Austin. His research examines the causes and consequences of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic inequality in education, with a particular emphasis on the effects that integration and choice policies have on school segregation and educational outcomes. Recent publications include: Stroub, K. J., & Richards, M. P. (2013). From resegregation to reintegration: Trends in metropolitan school segregation, 1993–2010. American Educational Research Journal, 50(3), 497–531; Richards, M. P., Stroub, K. J., & Holme, J. J. (2012). Can NCLB choice work? Modeling the effects of inter-district choice on student access to higher-performing schools. In R. Kahlenberg (Ed.), The future of school integration: Diversity as an education reform strategy. Washington, DC: The Century Foundation; and Richards, M. P., Stroub, K. J., & Vasquez Heilig, J. (2012). Achieving diversity in the Parents Involved era: Evidence for geographic integration plans in metropolitan school districts. Berkeley Journal of African-American Law and Policy, 14.
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