Racially integrated schools have demonstrated wide-ranging benefits for all students, including better educational and professional outcomes. School assignment policies can play a critical role in making our schools more diverse, but a closer examination of district data is needed to assess their unique strengths and limitations.

Problem

Studies have shown that a lack of racial diversity in our public schools often leads to an unequal educational opportunities—an imbalance that frequently favors majority-white districts. Racially integrated schools, on the other hand, have demonstrated wide-ranging benefits for all students, including better educational and professional outcomes.

School assignment policies can play a critical role in determining the racial make-up of our schools. In districts where racial groups are geographically divided, a policy that assigns students to schools based solely on where they live can create an equally segregated educational environment. School assignment policies that take a wider range of factors into account could help to counter-balance these inequalities, but how effective are they?

Methods

To get a clearer perspective on this issue, SDAL researchers compared the racial composition of schools in Jefferson County, Kentucky with schools in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. These counties were chosen because both are racially diverse, but Jefferson County has a policy aimed at integration, whereas Mecklenburg County discontinued their integration policy for geography-based school assignment in 2002.

data show that the proportion of school districts with a single race majority are lower in Jefferson County

By analyzing education data from the Kentucky and North Carolina Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, our team was able to create a clear visual representation of school diversity, broken down by district and geographic region. The location and proportion of racial groups represented in these charts provides a strong starting point for assessing how counties' contrasting policies can contribute to different educational outcomes.

Impact

Our team's data analysis revealed that Jefferson County schools, which employ an integration-focused placement policy, are far less likely to be dominated by a single racial group than Mecklenburg County, which places students based solely on where they live.

a map of jefferson and mecklenburg counties shows that suburban schools in both have a higher proportion of white students

However, in mapping the proportion of white and African-American students within these counties, we found that districts with a single-race majorities shared similar geographic traits. Namely, schools located in the city were majority African-American in both counties whereas schools in the outer suburbs were majority white. These findings suggest that, while Jefferson County's policies help to produce more diverse school districts, geography remains an important limiting factor.

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