Working Paper: What Does Gentrification Mean for School Integration?

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Working Paper: What Does Gentrification Mean for School Integration?

With more and more white middle- and upper-class families opting to remain in cities or move there over the past generation, gentrification has transformed the urban landscape. Nearly 20 percent of neighborhoods in the country’s 50 biggest cities have undergone gentrification since 2000, according to one study. But has growing gentrification meant more integration of schools? That is the question addressed by Kfir Mordechay and Jennifer B. Ayscue in “Diversifying Neighborhoods, Diversifying Schools? The Relationship between Neighborhood Racial Change and School Segregation in New York City.”

In focusing on New York City, Mordechay, an assistant professor of education at Pepperdine University, and Ayscue, an assistant professor of education at North Carolina State University, use census tracts to define neighborhoods. They study the 25 census tracts with the greatest increase in white population from 2000 to 2016. These 25 tracts together saw the white population climb from 11 percent to 30 percent over this time period.

Mordechay and Asycue draw their data from the U.S. Census Bureau/American Community Survey as well as the National Center for Education Statistics and employ Geographic Information Systems to provide visual representation of both demographic patterns and school locations. To assess levels of integration, they measure the percentage of elementary schools (district and charter) serving these 25 census tracts that were intensely segregated (defined as 90 to 100 percent non-white) and hypersegregated (99 to 100 percent non-white) in 2001, 2007, and 2015. For comparison, they provide the same data for schools in non-gentrifying areas of the city in 2007 and 2015. They find that while the share of segregated schools was much larger in gentrifying areas than non-gentrifying areas, gentrifying areas have experienced a modest reduction in segregation as non-gentrifying areas have experienced the opposite.

Validating earlier research, Mordechay and Ayscue point out that gentrification nevertheless leads to asymmetric school integration, with gentrifying families tending to enroll their children in several “vetted” schools. This “clustering effect,” they document, occurred at nine district schools, where more than 25 percent of the students in 2015 were white, while 80 percent of district schools were intensely segregated (90 to 100 percent non-white). They also document that the integration of district schools outpaced the integration of charter schools, which were 93 percent intensely segregated in 2015.

The failure of these schools to substantially reflect changing neighborhood demographics, Mordechay and Ayscue conclude, indicates that many gentrifying parents are choosing to bypass neighborhood schools for either private schools or non-neighborhood public schools accessible via choice programs. Moving into renovated brownstones in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, Bushwick, or Bedford-Stuyvesant, for example, does not mean fully living there.

Innovative, lucid, and rigorous, this study probes the abiding problem of school segregation, conveying that gentrification has a limited impact on the integration of neighborhood schools. With tables, maps, and copious citations, this study moreover paves the way to further inquiry.

Samuel E. Abrams
Director, NCSPE
July 12, 2021

Coming soon: Joanne W. Golann, Scripting the Moves: Culture and Control in a “No-Excuses”Charter School (Princeton University Press, 2021), NCSPE Book Excerpt No. 2; Daniel Sparks, “School Board Privatization: A Case Study of New York City Charter Schools,” NCSPE Working Paper No. 245; Audrey Watters, Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning (MIT Press, 2021), Book Excerpt No. 3.

Published Monday, Jul. 12, 2021