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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