Ezra's Round Table / Systems Seminar: Peter Rich (Cornell PAM) - Dividing Lines: School District Boundaries and Unequal Access to Educational Opportunity




Nationwide, nearly 13,000 unified and elementary school districts provide public education to their local communities. Using road network distance calculations, however, we show that the "local community" is an imprecise construct. We estimate that eight percent (1.63 million) of all elementary-aged schoolchildren live closer to a school outside of their school district than the within-district school they are assigned to attend. On average, these children travel between 1.79 (urban) and 5.09 (rural) extra kilometers per trip to school. Perhaps more importantly, school districts constrain access to educational opportunity by race and income, an issue that is pronounced in areas where small, suburban school districts encircle large, urban citywide school districts. Decades of segregative household sorting have led to stark demographic, economic, and social differences between bordering school districts, where the contrast in access to school quality can be dramatic. What are the consequences of school district boundaries on access to educational opportunity? This talk provides preliminary estimates and a review at complicated methodological challenges behind our results.

Peter Rich is an Assistant Professor of Policy Analysis and Management (PAM) and Sociology (by courtesy) at Cornell University. His research investigates the connection between segregation, inequality, individual choice, and public policy in the United States, asking how sorting processes reflect, reinforce, or compensate for racial and socioeconomic gaps in educational attainment, wealth accumulation, and economic opportunity.