Panel Paper: Are We There Yet? Geographic Access to Schools for Detroit Students

Friday, November 9, 2018
Wilson C - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Joshua Cowen and Danielle Sanderson, Michigan State University

In this study, we describe patterns of access that families living in Detroit have to schools. Detroit students may enroll in charter schools, other traditional public schools inside their district, and schools in nearby districts in addition to their neighborhood school. Many students exercise these options with approximately 42% of students living in Detroit attending charter schools and 19% attending schools outside of the city limits. Furthermore, public transportation in Detroit is inefficient. On average, students have the ability to travel to seventeen times more schools in fifteen minutes by private car than by city transit (Blagg, et al., 2018).

We describe access to schools by mapping where schools are located, measuring distances that students travel to school, investigating which groups of students are more likely to travel farther to school, and enumerating the schooling options available within a reasonable distance from home. Because the quality of schools may matter more than the quantity of schools for mitigating educational inequalities, we also examine distances from home to the nearest quality school, the location of these schools, and who attends them. Additionally, we explore differences in distance traveled and availability of schools for various types of vulnerable student populations as well as across areas of the city.

Preliminary results show that although less than 20% of students attend their nearest school, most students do not travel more than fifteen minutes by private car to school. Also, students live less than four minutes by car to their closest school on average. However, a substantial amount schools, especially high schools, are located in Detroit’s Financial District, which is relatively far away from where the majority of students live within the city, decreasing the amount of nearby options for most students. Additionally, many of the quality traditional public schools in Detroit have selective enrollment practices prohibiting most students from accessing them.

This work has important policy implications for choice-rich cities by providing evidence that increasing schooling options does not necessarily lead to increased access to quality schools. To ensure access to multiple schooling options, policymakers may need to consider public provision of student transportation across the city, locating schools near where live in school siting decisions, and open enrollment policies at quality schools.