Sustaining Diverse Communities and Schools

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Key New NEPC Brief Takeaway: Report recommends proactive policy measures to support and sustain diversity amid changing demographics in suburbs & cities

Children’s zip codes are often closely linked to their educational opportunities due to the tight relationship between racially segregated and unequal housing and schools. Yet according to a growing number of scholars, the United States may now have the ideal chance to address this housing-school nexus, as more blacks, Latinos and Asians move to the suburbs and more whites gentrify the cities their parents and grandparents fled decades ago.

In Diverse Housing, Diverse Schooling: How Policy Can Stabilize Racial Demographic Change in Cities and Suburbs, Professor Amy Stuart Wells of Columbia University Teachers College provides a review of social science evidence, highlighting the problem of reoccurring racial segregation and inequality absent strong, proactive integration policies.

Past policies, especially school desegregation plans, have been successful in disrupting the housing-school nexus of segregation. But these policies are being dismantled and replaced with school choice policies that often exacerbate racial segregation. This does not have to be continued; new approaches are available. In her brief, Professor Wells covers three key areas of social science research: the nature of the housing-school nexus, the impact of school desegregation and housing integration policies on the nexus, and implicit racial biases as they relate to school and housing choices.

This research reveals that racial inequality in American housing and schools is sustained by an iterative relationship between intangible and tangible factors in the housing-school choice process. One begets the other in a cyclical manner, as neighborhood demographics change. This process eventually leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy of “good” and “bad” schools that is strongly correlated with race. Breaking this cycle at the point at which intangible perceptions of place have changed—but tangible measures of housing and schools have not—is critical to disrupting the housing-school nexus of racial segregation.

Professor Wells outlines her recommendations for breaking the cycle:

  • Policymakers should embrace and capitalize on changing racial attitudes in the U.S., particularly among the younger generations, to promote and stabilize diverse communities and public schools.
  • Policymakers must consider how current accountability policies in the field of education exacerbate segregation and inequality.
  • Local leaders and their constituents must embrace the new demographics of their communities and promote them as places forward-thinking people want to “be” and not “flee” in the suburban context. Meanwhile, sustainable and affordable housing and school enrollment policies must support diversity in gentrifying urban neighborhoods. In both contexts, stable and diverse communities and their schools must be sustained.

The policy brief explains why such proactive measures “to sustain racially and ethnically diverse school districts and their educational benefits while stabilizing local communities and property values” are so difficult to achieve and why our failure to achieve them will have such dire consequences for our increasingly diverse nation and its schools.

Find Diverse Housing, Diverse Schooling: How Policy Can Stabilize Racial Demographic Change in Cities and Suburbs, by Amy Stuart Wells, at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. NEPC is guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. For more information visit the NEPC website:

This policy brief is made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (GLC). This brief is also found on the GLC website at:

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William Mathis

Amy Stuart Wells
Columbia University
(212) 678-4042
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