Gentrification in the past decade is linked with declining enrollment in neighborhood schools—but the race and ethnicity of new families moving into the neighborhood changes the equation, finds a new study.
Overall, neighborhood school enrollment drops when college-educated, middle-class families move into an area that had been characterized by concentrated poverty and underinvestment in infrastructure. Looking at gentrified neighborhoods nationwide, that accounts for a drop in enrollment of about 32,000 children between 2000 and 2014, compared to similar neighborhoods that had not gentrified.
But that enrollment drop is sharpest when the gentrifying families are white. In contrast, when the new families are all black and Latino, the study found that black enrollment in neighborhood schools goes up. The race of gentrifying families did not change the number of white, Latino, or economically disadvantaged children in these schools.
This may indicate that at least some higher-income minority families may be more willing to send their children to neigborhood schools, said study author Francis A. Pearman, an assistant professor of education at Stanford University.
Pearman’s research also found that gentrification itself was an uneven process. In 2000, roughly 20 percent of urban schools served neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty and disinvestment, the study found. Of those schools, about 1 in 5 gentrified by 2014, defined as an influx of college-educated middle or upper-middle class families and infrastructure improvement.
Some cities, such as Austin, Texas, Knoxville, Tenn., and Charlottesville, Va., saw a large degree of gentrification over that 14-year span. Other communities, such as Cleveland, Shreveport, La., and Lubbock, Texas, saw no gentrification, the study found.
The differences in how gentrification affects neighborhood schools can be the start of an important line of research, Pearman said. For example, his research did not show where the 32,000 children who would have otherwise attended neighborhood schools ended up. They may have moved to schools in similar communities that were not gentrifying, or they may have ended up at charter schools or magnet schools in the same neighborhood, he said. This particular study did also not track where the children of white gentrifiers attended school.
“We need to be expanding conversations around community and how communities change—and how that community change can affect the commitment to neighborhood schools,” Pearman said.
But the changes he found also offer an opportunity, he said.
“Urban schools have been plagued by a number of challenges. We’re now sitting at an era where there’s a unique opportunity to address some of these persistent challenges,” Pearman said. “How best can we ensure that these shifts have the effects that we want them to?”
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.