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Suburbanizing Segregation? Changes in Racial/Ethnic Diversity and the Geographic Distribution of Metropolitan School Segregation, 2002–2012

by Kori J. Stroub & Meredith P. Richards - 2017

Background: While postwar suburban migration established suburbs as relatively affluent, homogeneous white enclaves distinct from the urban core, recent waves of suburbanization and exurbanization have been spurred largely by rapid growth in the nonwhite population. While these increases in suburban racial/ethnic diversity represent a significant evolution of the traditional “chocolate city, vanilla suburbs” dichotomy, scholars have expressed concern that they are worsening racial/ethnic segregation among suburban public school students.

Objective: In this study, we document shifts in the racial imbalance of suburban schools in terms of several racial/ethnic and geographic dimensions (i.e., multiracial, black–white; between and within suburban districts, among localities). In addition, we extend the urban/suburban dichotomy to provide initial evidence on changes in racial balance in metropolitan exurbs. Finally, we use inferential models to directly examine the impact of changes in racial/ethnic diversity on shifts in racial imbalance.

Research Design: Using demographic data from the National Center of Education Statistics Common Core of Data (NCES CCD) on 209 U.S. metropolitan areas, we provide a descriptive analysis of changes in segregation within and between urban, suburban, and exurban localities from 2002 to 2012. We measure segregation using Theil’s entropy index, which quantifies racial balance across geographic units. We assess the relationship between demographic change and change in segregation via a series of longitudinal fixed-effects models.

Results: Longitudinal analyses indicate that increases in racial/ethnic diversity are positively related to change in racial imbalance. However, observed increases in diversity were generally insufficient to produce meaningful increases in segregation. As a result, suburbs and exurbs, like urban areas, experienced little change in segregation, although trends were generally in a negative direction and more localities experienced meaningful declines in segregation than meaningful increases. Findings are less encouraging for suburbs and exurbs than for urban areas and underscore the intractability of black-white racial imbalance and the emerging spatial imbalance of Asians and whites. We also document an important shift in the geographic distribution of segregation, with suburbs now accounting for a plurality of metropolitan segregation.

Conclusions: Contrary to previous researchers, we do not find evidence that suburban and exurban schools are resegregating, although we fail to document meaningful progress towards racial equity. Moreover, while suburbs are not necessarily resegregating, we find that segregation is suburbanizing, and now accounts for the largest share of segregation of any locality. We conclude with a discussion of recommendations for policy and research.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 7, 2017, p. 1-40
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21822, Date Accessed: 7/30/2021 7:22:00 AM

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About the Author
  • Kori Stroub
    The 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 "The fragmentation of metropolitan public school districts and the segregation of American schools: A longitudinal analysis" published in Teachers College Record (with Richards, M. P.) and "From resegregation to reintegration: Trends in metropolitan school segregation, 1993–2010" published in American Educational Research Journal (with Richards, M. P.).
  • Meredith Richards
    Southern Methodist University
    E-mail Author
    MEREDITH P. RICHARDS is an assistant professor in 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 "An accident of geography? Assessing the gerrymandering of public school attendance zones" published in Teachers College Record (with Stroub, K. J.) and "The gerrymandering of school attendance zones and the segregation of American schools: A geospatial analysis" published in American Educational Research Journal.
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