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.