The idea of attending a nearby school is very appealing to many families. However, the high levels of economic segregation found in our residential housing patterns make a neighborhood school model the story of separate and unequal.
In a report from the Brookings Institution, “Housing Costs, Zoning, and Access to High-Scoring Schools,” Jonathan Rothwell analyzes 2010 and 2011 student demographics and standardized test scores for 84,077 U.S. metropolitan area schools and also looks at the relationship between housing prices and school test scores. Rothwell notes,
“access to high-scoring schools is vastly unequal across income and racial/ethnic groups, and across metropolitan areas due to differing demographic and economic characterics and levels of segregation. At the same time, recent research supports the idea that higher-scoring schools benefit disadvantages children, boosting their academic achievement and future labor market success.”
Raleigh-Cary Metropolitan Area Exceeds Expectations
Based on Wake County housing patterns, our public schools should have a test score gap of 25.5, putting it in a similar range as metropolitan areas such as Baltimore, Atlanta, and Nashville. Instead,
“Raleigh exceeded expectations by the largest margin. Its test score gap of 14.7 is over 10 percentage points lower than its predicted test score gap of 25.5. One possible explanation is that Wake County has a history of aggressive district-wide socioeconomic integration policies.”
The report also adds,
“There is compelling evidence from studies based on lottery-based assignment or other random administrative mechanisms that poor and minority students succeed at higher rates in better-performing schools—measured by test scores or future adult outcomes.”
“The average schools attended by low-income students, black students, and Hispanic students register much lower scores on state standardized exams than average schools attended by middle/high-income and white students. In light of mounting evidence that disadvantaged students perform better when they attend school with higher-performing peers, and that young minority adults do better in labor markets with more integrated schools, the school test-score gap may very well represent a serious obstacle to boosting student achievement and promoting economic security.”
A significant body of data points to the strong likelihood that the now-abandoned socioeconomic diversity criterion used in assigning WCPSS students resulted in a smaller test score gap between white and Black or Hispanic students. While the “old” student assignment plan had its imperfections, it had well-documented, student success-oriented strengths.
Want to Live Near a “Good” School? It’s Going to Cost You
The Brookings study is the first to approximate the cost of living near a particular public school. The findings:
“…housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than a low-performing public school.”
“…exclusionary zoning policies are likely to exacerbate inequalities in educational attainment across income groups.”
Schools across the nation have become more segregated in the past decade; fewer than seven percent of schools are economically integrated. Wake County was viewed as the model for creating balanced, diverse schools through its innovative assignment policy. It’s time to find a better way to ensure that ALL students receive a high quality education that paves the way for success—in school and beyond.
Brookings Institution: Raleigh Profile