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Challenging Boundaries, Changing Fate? Metropolitan Inequality and the Legacy of Milliken

by Jennifer Jellison Holme, Kara S. Finnigan & Sarah Diem - 2016

Background: This article examines the contemporary implications of the Milliken v. Bradley (1974) decision for educational inequality between school districts in U.S. metropolitan areas. We focus upon four metropolitan areas that were highly segregated in the 1970s but which met different fates in court: We first examine Detroit and Philadelphia, where plaintiffs sought but ultimately failed to obtain a metropolitan-wide desegregation ruling. We then examine St. Louis, where a court imposed a metropolitan desegregation remedy. We finally include Jefferson County, where the court order resulted in a merger of city and suburban schools.

Objective: Through this comparative analysis we seek to tease out the effects of the ruling on patterns of inequity between urban and suburban school districts over time. We specifically examine how districts within these metro areas differed over time in terms of patterns of school segregation, fiscal resources, and academic performance.

Research Design: We employed qualitative case study methodology. We purposively selected three case study districts within each of the four metro areas (total of 12 school districts) based on their contextual status in 1970, i.e., whether they were in each of these three categories: urban, segregated suburban, or affluent suburban. We compared them along three dimensions: patterns of segregation, academic outcomes, and fiscal resources.

Conclusions: We found that the segregated and high poverty districts in the three metro areas where courts left districts intact (Detroit, Philadelphia, and St. Louis) have been, since Milliken, increasingly hemmed in by their boundaries: struggling with growing concentrations of need, low resources to meet those needs, and as a result falling into fiscal and academic decline. In contrast, the maintenance of district boundaries by the courts has allowed the affluent suburbs in these contexts, over time, to benefit from a number of policies and practices that allowed them to accrue and protect advantage through exclusionary zoning policies and housing discrimination. Together, these policies have promoted and protected the affluence and advantage in each of these contexts, which has in turn attracted investment and allowed these districts to maintain strong financial standing over time. Our study suggests that socially constructed political boundaries, like school district boundary lines, by carving up political geography along the lines of race and class, can take on an active role in the reproduction of inequality.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 3, 2016, p. 1-40
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18247, Date Accessed: 3/7/2021 6:51:32 AM

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About the Author
  • Jennifer Holme
    The University of Texas at Austin
    JENNIFER JELLISON HOLME, PhD, is Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the politics and implementation of educational policy, with a particular focus on the relationship among school reform, equity, and diversity in schools. Her work has been published in the American Educational Research Journal , Educational Administration Quarterly, the Review of Educational Research, and the Harvard Educational Review. She also co-author of Both Sides Now: The Story of Desegregationís Graduates (2009, University of California Press).
  • Kara Finnigan
    University of Rochester
    E-mail Author
    KARA S. FINNIGAN, PhD, is Associate Professor of education policy at the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education. Her research examines policy design and implementation, blending perspectives in education, sociology, and political science; employing qualitative and quantitative methods, including social network analysis and GIS mapping; and focusing on issues of equity. She recently published articles relating to choice policies and equity in Educational Policy, Teachers College Record, and the Journal of School Choice, as well as articles relating to accountability policies and school and district improvement in Educational Policy, Journal of Educational Administration, and the American Journal of Education.
  • Sarah Diem
    University of Missouri
    E-mail Author
    SARAH DIEM, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri. She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Planning from The University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the sociopolitical and geographic contexts of education, paying particular attention to how politics, leadership, and implementation of educational policy affect diversity outcomes. Her work is published in such journals as the American Journal of Education, Educational Administration Quarterly, Educational Policy, The Urban Review, and the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.
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