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City Lines, County Lines, Color Lines: The Relationship between School and Housing Segregation in Four Southern Metro Areas

by Genevieve Siegel-Hawley

Background/Context: At the close of the first decade of the 21st century, the intersection of race, geography and opportunity is increasingly referred to as spatial racism. School quality and resources, municipal services, employment opportunities, accessibility of transportation, exposure to pollution, and tax rates all vary dramatically across a network of invisible boundary lines that carve up U.S. metro areas into racially and socioeconomically distinctive spaces.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study:This analysis explores how district boundary lines and school desegregation policy have impacted metropolitan school and housing integration levels over the past two decades.

Setting: The study focuses specifically on the South, where the most comprehensive desegregation strategies were pursued. Based on varying experiences with city-suburban school district mergers, four metros—Richmond, Virginia; Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky; and Chattanooga-Hamilton County, Tennessee—were identified for study between the years 1990 and 2010. This time period encompassed a rising trend of unitary status for school districts, the serious resegregation of students, and growing demographic complexity across the country.

Research Design: This is a quantitative analysis of school and housing segregation trends that relies upon Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps to depict spatial patterns of isolation. School enrollment and segregation trends are derived from the National Center for Educational Statistics’ Common Core of Data. Housing patterns describing the distribution and segregation of persons by race and poverty status are explored using block group-level information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s decennial census. Segregation is measured using the Index of Dissimilarity (D).

Findings/Results: Efforts to overcome the divisive nature of district boundary lines, in conjunction with comprehensive school desegregation policy, were related to unambiguous progress in combating both school and housing segregation. This central finding suggests that, in some ways, school policy can become housing policy.

Conclusions/Recommendations: How we provide equal educational opportunity to an increasingly diverse population of students is one of the principal concerns facing the country today. As a nation, however, we are currently allowing a labyrinthine system of school-district boundary lines to dictate the geographic distribution of learning opportunities. This study provides concrete examples of metros implementing a more regional approach to educational equity. It recommends that other metro area consider taking similar steps to subvert the segregating power of school-district boundaries.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 6, 2013, p. 1-45 ID Number: 16988, Date Accessed: 6/25/2018 3:16:30 PM

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