Increasing School Segregation Widens White-Black Achievement Gaps

Trend Data Corroborates Existing Evidence Showing That Segregation Leads to Unequal Learning

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We find that inequality in demographics, socioeconomic characteristics, and school resources predict trends in achievement disparities. For example, trends in White-Black school segregation predicts trends in White-Black achievement gaps: On average, school districts where segregation is increasing also have increasing achievement gaps. This relationship persists even after accounting for many other factors. This figure shows this relationship between the average change in segregation (x-axis) and the average change in the White-Black gap over the 2009-18 school years (y-axis). Here, we define school segregation as the difference in school poverty rates for White and Black students in a district. Where segregation increases, more Black students attend schools with increasingly higher poverty rates than White students.

We calculate the average test score gap using SEDA, which includes standardized test scores for students in grades 3-8 from 2009-18 in math and language arts. Increasing gaps indicate that the difference between White students’ scores and Black students’ scores is increasing. Because of the large number of school districts in our data, each dot represents approximately 270 districts with that rate of change in segregation. The line on the graph shows the average association between the two, controlling for dozens of other district-level attributes (e.g., demographics, socioeconomic characteristics, and school resources). Overall, this figure shows that White-Black achievement gaps grow fastest where school segregation increases fastest, suggesting that segregation exacerbates academic inequality.

The districts with the highest increases in segregation had a 0.10 grade-level increase in achievement gaps over nine years. The districts with the highest decreases in segregation had a 0.13 grade-level decrease in achievement gaps over nine years.

Learn more about these findings in our working paper “Uneven Progress: Recent Trends in Academic Performance Among U.S. School Districts”.

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