There are more than a few flaws to the education system in the United States, but this is perhaps most glaringly obvious in the way school districts are formed and allowed to operate. In essence, well-off communities are legally allowed to more or less fence off their school districts from their neighbors who are less well-off or live in poverty. Thanks to a 1974 Supreme Court ruling, desegregation simply cannot be enforced across school district lines that were drawn almost solely with segregation in mind.
EdBuild, an organization that works toward mitigating some of the incredibly negative effects of this kind of school district segregation, wanted to find out exactly how much inequality exists between certain neighboring school districts and the people whose children belong to those districts.
In order to do so, they looked at over 33,500 borders between school districts in the United States and analyzed the degree of income disparity between neighboring districts.
The most segregating school district in the United States is the one between Detroit and the suburb of Grosse Point, which is actually quite telling. Namely, the aforementioned 1974 Supreme Court ruling was reached in the case which NAACP brought up because of Detroit and the segregation between the Detroit City School District and its more affluent white suburbs. Grosse Pointe was one of those neighborhoods.
Today, the inequality between Detroit and Grosse Point is more than 7 times worse than in 1974, believe it or not. Today, almost 50 percent of Detroit’s residents live in poverty while only 6 percent of Grosse Point’s residents are in the same situation. The median property value in Grosse Point is almost 5 times higher than the median property value in Detroit. The median household income is more than three times higher in the affluent suburb than in Detroit.
The second most segregating school district border in the country is found in Birmingham, Alabama. The Birmingham City School District is surrounded by 13 other school districts. The borders are almost entirely arbitrary and make no sense geographically speaking. These new school districts were created by wealthy suburbs literally seceding from the Jefferson County School District.
The district whose border with Birmingham actually made it to second place is Vestavia Hills. Whereas Birmingham’s poverty rate is over 48 percent, it is only 6 percent in Vestavia Hills. The median property value is about four times higher in Vestavia Hills than in Birmingham while the median household income is more than two times higher in the well-off suburb.
Keep in mind, these are neighborhoods that are right next to each other. These children can see how the other half lives on a daily basis.
The third most segregating school district border in the U.S. is also found in Birmingham and is yet another one of those 13 borders that exist in this Alabaman city. This time, the well-off suburban school district is the Mountain Brook City School District whose numbers are pretty much the same as those of Vestavia Hills. Once again – in stark contrast to the Birmingham City School District.
Both these districts are among those that seceded from the old school district, enabled by the wealth they accumulated through property taxes. It is also important to mention that this is a trend on the rise in the country, wherever the state laws allow this.
Contrary to what you might have expected, the rest of the most segregating school district borders are not to be found in the South. Instead, they are to be found in Ohio (three of them), Pennsylvania, Arizona, Colorado, and Illinois. In fact, Alabama is the only Southern state on the EdBuild list due to the fact that county borders are also school district borders in the South, meaning that this sort of intentional segregation is not possible.
Instead, this kind of practice is mostly seen in the Northern states, as well as in the states in the Rust Belt, with Ohio being the worst.
We urge you to check out the entire research, as well as the list done by the wonderful people from EdBuild. You can find it here.