How Income Segregation between School Districts Perpetuates Educational Inequality

December 18, 2017

Over the past several decades, educational inequalities between high- and low-income children have increased significantly. As research by former RSF visiting scholar Sean Reardon (Stanford University) demonstrates, the gap between high- and low-income students’ test scores is about 40 percent larger among children born in the early 2000s than among those born in the 1970s. Since the 1970s, the growth of the socioeconomic achievement gap has also outpaced the racial achievement gap between black and white students, which has remained fairly stable.

In a new article in Sociology of Education, RSF grantee Ann Owens (University of Southern California) investigates how income segregation between school districts has fueled the growth of the socioeconomic achievement gap. In her study, Owens draws from national data on students’ test scores and finds that the socioeconomic achievement gap is larger in highly segregated metropolitan areas. She writes, “This is due mainly to high-income students performing better, rather than low- income children performing worse, in more-segregated places.” As she shows, income segregation creates affluent neighborhoods that benefit high-income students. The creation of these affluent districts in turn exacerbates the racial achievement gap because black families—even those with incomes that match high-income white families—are less likely to live in these neighborhoods, and instead tend to live in districts that are more similar to those of low-income white families.

Owens is also the author of a 2017 article in RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences that explored the relationship between residential segregation and school boundaries.

Read Owens’ article in Sociology of Education.

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