SD News Roundup: School district gerrymandering & a big desegregation lawsuit

This week, I have quick roundup that focuses on two big topics from the last week or so of school (de)segregation news: An extremely comprehensive Vox story about school district zoning and a potentially groundbreaking case in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

There’s a lot about the Vox story that’s compelling- it includes demographic data from virtually EVERY school district in the country and Alvin Chang’s “visual journalism” uses interactive maps and graphics to explain complicated topics in a very straightforward way. But, for me, the most compelling aspect of the article is the simplicity of its argument: if we drew in-district attendance zones differently, schools would be less segregated.

Using data provided by Tomas Monarrez (the lead researcher), the Vox article allows you to look at two versions of every district map (again, basically EVERY school district):

  • Baseline: What the attendance zones would look like if students were assigned to their nearest elementary school. Each zone is shaded according to the % Black & Hispanic students. In this approach, schools would be segregated roughly to the same extent that housing is segregated.
  • Reality: What the actual elementary attendance zones were in 2013.

Monarrez came up with a very simple way of comparing baseline to reality to see if zoning decisions are any improvement on the default (i.e., housing patterns). Unfortunately, as you might be expecting, his research found that “most districts keep segregation levels about the same as the underlying neighborhoods.” Like Nikole Hannah-Jones said on Twitter, “school attendance zone lines are as heavily gerrymandered as electoral districts.” Check it out for your town or city – the highlighted parts of the text actually change when you select a new district.

It’s maddening, really, because it illustrates how much we could do to integrate schools –  even within the boundaries of existing policy (!) – if more people had the will to do it.  

The rest of the article discusses the history of segregation in housing policy and schools. There’s a lot of great stuff that I don’t have the space to discuss. Though, I do want to take one quick detour – the article talks about how charter schools increase segregation over and above the boundaries of a district’s attendance zones. This is a hot topic, so I wanted to include a graph from the article that clearly illustrates the growth in segregated charters. The bottom part is segregated white schools and the top part is segregated non-white schools. Look at how much that top part has grown, just since 2000-01:
Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 1.24.38 PMAnd, that’s actually a decent segue into the second major topic for this roundup: a case in the Minnesota court system about whether school segregation is an unconstitutional barrier to a quality education (Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota). Oral arguments were last Tuesday (1/9). Of the articles I read, I thought this one from MPR News had the best summary.

Here’s my best overview of the competing arguments:

The attorney for the plaintiffs believes the case could “start a movement” of pursuing desegregation cases through state courts, as opposed to federal court. The case bears a clear resemblance to Sheff v. O’Neill in CT, which led to the magnet system in the Hartford area. If successful, the MN case could lead to something similar – a metro-level integration plan that is supervised by state courts. It could be big. I’ll try to follow everything and post updates.

7 thoughts on “SD News Roundup: School district gerrymandering & a big desegregation lawsuit

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