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SNAPSHOT: School Segregation

While cities have become more diverse in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, schools haven’t always followed suit. In fact, some schools have become more segregated. One reason may be school choice, which ranges from magnet programs to charter schools, and offers students a way out of their immediate neighborhood schools.

Guttman Community College Assistant Professor of Sociology Ryan W. Coughlan analyzed the demographic shifts in neighborhood and school populations in the 100 largest U.S. cities between 1990 and 2015. He published his findings with the Peabody Journal of Education.

A close up of a school bus stop sign

Even though 71.1 percent of neighborhoods have become more integrated during those years, only 61.4 percent of schools have become more integrated. Coughlan defined integration as “the proportional distribution of people from different backgrounds.” School districts that displayed sharp changes to population — either experiencing a significant growth or decline in population — became more segregated, while those that were more stable became more integrated.

Theoretically, school choice should help overcome segregation, but Coughlan’s findings and previous research suggest the opposite. “Moving forward,” he wrote, “school choice should only be used in a controlled manner to ensure that, at the very least, it does not exacerbate levels of segregation.”

Coughlan added, “As data from this study show, urban areas experiencing the greatest changes in population are most in need of thoughtful policies that support the expansion of neighborhood integration.”