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How Does Neighborhood Gentrification Influence School Composition?

Choosing Schools in Changing Places: Examining School Enrollment in Gentrifying Neighborhoods
Jennifer Candipan
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Structures of racism, parental choices, and school assignment policies have maintained segregation in US schools. In a system where most students attend the public school they are assigned based on their home address, residential segregation plays a central role in segregating schools. As such, current discourse posits that efforts to end school segregation may begin with neighborhood integration.

This study sheds light on whether shifting neighborhood demographics influence changes in neighborhood school demographics. It explores whether families moving to gentrifying neighborhoods enrolled in or opted out of their neighborhood school. The author defines gentrifying neighborhoods as neighborhoods that have experienced a significant increase in measures of socioeconomic status (SES) and an above-average growth rate in the non-Hispanic white population relative to its metropolitan area over 20 years.

The author uses national data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, School Attendance Boundary Survey, American Community Survey, and National Center for Education Statistics. They analyzed data on where students lived, what school they were assigned based on geography, and what school they attended to predict the likelihood that a family will opt out of their neighborhood school if there are more school choices available, if they moved to a new neighborhood within the previous two years, and if they live in a gentrifying neighborhood. The study’s results reveal how school segregation may persist even when the surrounding neighborhoods diversify.

Key findings
  • The presence of nearby private schools increased the likelihood that families would opt out of neighborhood schools.
  • Families who moved in the previous two years were more likely to opt out of their assigned school than families who lived in a neighborhood longer. In gentrifying neighborhoods, the odds of opting out of a school were 160 percent greater for families who recently moved compared with existing residents.
  • When the availability of public school choices increased, families residing in gentrifying neighborhoods were more likely to opt out of the neighborhood schools than those in nongentrifying neighborhoods.
  • When families opted out, they tended to enroll their children in schools with higher shares of white students and lower shares of Black students than their assigned school. The difference in school demographics between the assigned school and the school families enrolled in was greatest in gentrifying neighborhoods and among white families who had recently moved.
Policy implications
  • Policymakers exploring school integration should recognize that neighborhood integration does not guarantee school integration. The choices of white and higher-SES families who move to gentrifying neighborhoods may uphold school segregation, as these families more frequently opt out of assigned schools.
  • These findings underscore the interconnectedness of housing and education policy. Policymakers interested in desegregation must consider potential unintended consequences, as efforts targeted toward schools likely affect the surrounding neighborhoods and vice versa.