SD Research Roundup: Secession, voluntary integration and school spending, part 1

In just the past few months, there’s been a number of new studies looking at various aspects of contemporary school segregation. Before I dive into the articles featured in this post, here’s just a few examples of segregation-related research from September and October:  

Reproduced from the Urban Institute

Incidentally, a number of new pieces came from researchers at Penn State, my former employer and the home of this very blog. So, I reached out to the authors, who provided some commentary in response to a few questions about their research. In the rest of this post, I have very brief summaries of the key findings from each article along with additional thoughts from one of the authors on each paper. Specifically, the three featured pieces are:

Since it ended up being a long post, I split it up into two parts, with the second half coming out tomorrow. As always, I hope you find something useful/interesting. Please let me know – in comments or on twitter – if you have thoughts/questions/critiques of these. 

“Racial Segregation in the Southern Schools, School Districts, and Counties Where Districts Have Seceded” 

As cataloged most prominently by EdBuild, school district secession is a popular avenue for contemporary segregationists. Between 2000-2017, at least 47 school districts have splintered off from larger districts to form their own separate district. Because it is often that wealthy and/or majority white communities are leaving larger, more racially and/or socio-economically diverse districts, many argue that secessions lead to increased school segregation. And, now we have concrete numbers to back up that argument. 

Specifically, in this study, the authors looked at demographic trends in 7 Southern US counties that experienced school district secession from 2000-2015. Of course, there are a lot of factors that lead to school segregation, so the authors wanted to know whether the new boundaries contributed to increased segregation over and above other barriers to integration that exist within the district (e.g., student assignment policies). They found that:

  • “In 2000, school district boundaries contributed, on average, to 59.9 percent of the school segregation for black and white students; that number increased to 70.3 percent in 2015.” 
  • “For Hispanic and white students, the number increased from 37.1 percent in 2000 to 65.1 percent in 2015.” 

This piece attracted a lot of news coverage (see this story and podcast, for examples) and AERA Open has a 5 min video where Erica Frankenberg (Director of the Center for Education and Civil Rights) talks about the background for the study and the key findings. 

Of course, secession news unfolds on a regular basis. Just last weekend, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana residents voted to carve out St. George (12% Black) from East Baton Rouge (47% Black). (More info in a twitter thread here.) I reached out to Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, one of the co-authors and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, for commentary on this paper. As she describes, it’s important to continue tracking the impact of school district secession, especially because these efforts are becoming more popular and because they cement segregation in place.   

  • What would you like readers to take away from the article?

Well, a couple of things. 1) Though district secession is still a relatively small phenomenon, it’s on the rise–with serious implications for both school and housing segregation. And 2) This is a new–and difficult to undo–strategy that walls off students from the opportunity to learn to live together. It also isolates Black, Brown and low income students from what were previously shared resources.  

  • How can research build on what you uncovered here?

Yes. We should continue to track school district secession. Future analyses might consider the total universe of secessions, not just those that occurred in the South and/or examine the evolution of school and residential patterns over a longer period of time. 

  • What policy changes would address the problems identified in your research?

New and thorough federal or state oversight related to attempts to change district boundaries.

Readers – Let me know what you think. What questions do you have about school district secession? What would federal or state oversight look like? What policies would you like to see?

2 thoughts on “SD Research Roundup: Secession, voluntary integration and school spending, part 1

  1. Pingback: SD Research Roundup: Secession, voluntary integration and school spending, part 2 | School Diversity Notebook

  2. Pingback: SD Research Roundup: Preschool Segregation, part 1 | School Diversity Notebook

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