Inequality Discussion Group - Peter Rich

Photo of Peter Rich

Event Date

03/29/2021 - 11:30

Peter Rich (Assistant Professor, Policy Analysis and Management & Cornell Institute for Public Affairs)

Title: Access denied: The effect of boundaries on White-Black gaps in access to educational opportunity

Abstract: Nationwide, nearly 13,000 school districts manage the delivery of public education to their local communities. Commute distance calculations reveal, however, that “local community” is an imprecise construct. Eight percent of all elementary school-aged are unable to attend the school closest to their home because it is located outside of their locally zoned residential school district. The spatial discontinuities produced by educational boundaries not only increase school commute times, but in some cases exacerbate unequal access to opportunity. This occurs most often in areas where small, suburban school districts encircle large, citywide school districts. Decades of household sorting have created stark economic and social differences between some bordering school districts—generating a patchwork of territorial school district "fiefdoms." This talk presents preliminary findings from a counterfactual analysis. We estimate that educational boundaries increase the national White-Black gap in school achievement access by 17% more than residential location alone. This finding builds from a novel method estimating access to public schools that incorporates local school choice context for virtually every block in the U.S. The hidden costs of educational boundaries are revealed as a trade-off against the perceived benefits of local community control of schools and situated more broadly in a sociological perspective of state power over residential and school choice markets.