One of the greatest obstacles to school diversity is residential segregation. School choice policies, such as magnet schools, have tried to overcome residential segregation in a move away from neighborhood schools to schools of choice, but even the demographics of magnet schools tend to reflect the demographics of the neighborhood more than of the district as a whole (Smrekar & Honey, 2014). Tiebout sorting related to school quality has been studied extensively, showing that wealthier, often whiter, families tend to pay a premium price to live in neighborhoods with high quality services, including high quality public schools; while lower income, often minority, families are forced to settle for neighborhoods with lower quality public services, including lower quality schools, in order to afford a home (Bayer et al, 2007; Black, 1999; Brasington, 1999; Chiodo et al, 2010; Elacqua, 2012; Saporito et al, 2006). However, when gentrification takes place, neighborhoods shift from entirely low income (minority) to mixed income and mixed race. Oftentimes, this also means these new families are moving into neighborhoods with historically poor performing public schools with high levels of minority enrollment. Some work has been done looking at the connection between gentrification and diversity in schools mostly in New York City or Chicago, most of this has been qualitative explorations of particular neighborhoods or particular schools with limited quantitative analysis (DeSena 2008; DeSena & Ansalone, 2009; Hankins, 2007; Keels et al, 2013). However, little has been done examining how the relationship between a changing neighborhood and school diversity play out in a southern city with a history of segregation and white flight. This paper explores the trends in gentrifying neighborhoods of Nashville in order to gain insight into the role of gentrification for school diversity in a southern context. This paper tests if the process of “tipping in”, proposed by Stillman (2012), holds in Nashville.
Qualitative semi-structured interviews of “gentry” in gentrifying neighborhoods of Nashville are conducted and analyzed using grounded analysis in a constant-comparative method in order to better understand the decision making process for these families. The findings from interviews are supplemented with findings from document analysis of the historical residential and school segregation in Nashville, and quantitative analysis of changes in school segregation over time in gentrifying and non-gentrifying neighborhoods. The quantitative data comes from the American Community Survey and the Tennessee school report cards. Schools are geocoded into census tracts (approximate neighborhoods). Multiple measures of gentrification are used to assign a neighborhood as gentrifying for the quantitative analysis. Both a categorical and a linear measure are used, consistent with previous research (Keels et al, 2013; Mir and Sanchez, 2009; Pattillo, 2008). Event history analysis is conducted to test for a “tipping point” where a critical mass of gentry move into a neighborhood before parents begin enrolling their children in neighborhood schools and these schools desegregate. The main analysis focuses on pre-existing neighborhood schools, but additional models are run with new schools and choice schools.