Panel Paper: The Influence of School Choice on Neighborhood Gentrification

Monday, June 13, 2016 : 3:15 PM
Clement House, 5th Floor, Room 02 (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Alvin Pearman and Walker A. Swain, Vanderbilt University
Research has well established that the racial and socioeconomic (SES) composition of neighborhood schools is a key driver of home purchases among parents, expecting parents, and perspective home owners looking to enjoy anticipated capitalization of the school attraction inherent in their investment. Perceived quality and test score performance have historically been closely correlated with the proportion of low-income and minority students attending these schools.  These revealed preferences have resulted in low-performing, high-minority schools potentially serving as a barrier to higher income white parents interested in taking advantage of the attractions associated with property closer to city centers. Put another way, poor black and Hispanic “inner-city” neighborhood public schools, formed by years of intentional segregationist public policy and individual prejudiced preferences, may deter white homebuyers who are open to living in an integrated neighborhood but not sending their kids to a “poor school."

However, expanded school choice in urban settings (recently through charter school openings) has gradually diminished the historical tie between residential location and student assignment to schools, especially for parents with means to transport their children long distances to pursue the educational opportunity parents deem best. As the neighborhood-school link weakens through expanded charter school options, we hypothesize that higher SES white families will be more apt to move to homes in attractive historically non-white communities near city centers.

To test this hypothesis, we combine data from the American Community Survey, Decennial Census, and the National Center for Educational Statistics and examine the relationship between shifts in school choice options and shifts in residential composition of neighborhoods in metropolitan areas across the U.S between 2000 and 2009. Specifically, we seek to answer the following research question: To what extent is expanded school choice associated with increased neighborhood gentrification?

Initial results indicate that the gentrification of low-income communities of color is more likely in counties with expanded school choice options; likewise, the extent to which these communities undergo gentrification is positively associated with the extent of school choice. We also find heterogeneous effects with respect to the concentration of poverty in a county’s public schools (proportion of students qualifying for free and reduced price lunch), such that the impact of school choice on the likelihood and extent of neighborhood gentrification increases with the proportion of students who are poor. In other words, the school choice-gentrification link may be strongest in counties where schools are the most economically disadvantaged. In sum, controlling for a host of neighborhood and district characteristics, the gentrification of American low-income communities of color during the 2000s was significantly tied to the amount of school choice available to the higher SES white families who relocated to these neighborhoods. Findings from this study have important implications for scholars and policymakers seeking to understand both the causes and effects of changing racial and socioeconomic compositions of neighborhoods and schools.