The most economically different school districts in the US which are adjacent to one another are the Detroit academic system and Grosse Pointe, Mich., says a study from EdBuild, an educational funding reform nonprofit.
The Christian Science Monitor's Rowena Lindsay writes that the report, "Fault Lines: America's Most Segregating School District Borders," shows that 49.2% of Detroit's students live in poverty, while only 6.5% of their fellow-students in nearby Grosse Pointe are of poverty level status.
It is not only a matter of segregation — a word used to mean class separation in the study, since school districts in this country rely on local property taxes for funding — but the immense inequality of incomes among districts offers fewer opportunities for kids who live in low-income communities.
"The schools in these districts face tremendous impediments to teaching and learning, and yet because of district borders, low-income students are further deprived of the benefits from the financial and cultural capital of better-off peers that they would encounter in an integrated school," the report says.
The way school finance policies work, says Fault Lines, has led to segregation along class lines in communities nationwide. And legislative and judicial actions have strengthened these boundaries that separate kids and communities.
The scientists looked at all borders in the nation and compared poverty rates of students in neighboring districts. They believed the highest rates of disparity would occur between schools in the South, according to Rebecca Sibilia, founder and chief executive of EdBuild. Surprisingly, only one Southern city made it into the top ten most segregated borders.
Sibilia pointed out that in the South, school district lines are also county lines, which makes for less opportunity to segregate intentionally. The greatest inequality, found researchers, was in manufacturing centers such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
Class separation and segregation can overlap and create what some are calling legal ways to continue racial division in schools, even after the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional decades ago.
The five towns in the Grosse Pointe school system in Michigan are slightly below 2% to approximately 13% African-American, and Detroit is 82.7% African-American, based on data from the 2010 census. In Harper Woods, a city that deviates from the study's norm, 45% of the population is African-American.
In 1974, a US Supreme Court decision in the Milliken v. Bradley case barred busing between districts to accomplish racial integration:
"Income segregation in the Detroit metropolitan area parallels the racial segregation that inspired the Milliken case and has worsened since the case was first argued," the report says.
The Detroit News' Shawn D. Lewis says the Great Recession caused an exodus from Detroit into the suburbs which were suddenly offering less expensive apartments and homes. But Gross Pointe communities were protected for the most part because of a highly-educated citizenry.
Birmingham City School District in Alabama had the misfortune of having six of its 13 school districts on the EdBuild 50 most segregated districts. Forty-nine percent of Birmingham's students live in poverty, reports NPR's Cory Turner, but surrounding the city are smaller and wealthier districts.
Most of those richer areas were part of the larger city district at one time, which was then known as the Jefferson County School District. But over the years, little by little, those small communities have left the city school system and have created new mini-districts with their considerable property tax revenue.
Elizabeth Lauten, writing for Alabama Today, quoted a statement from the report:
"There is no doubt that low-income students are harmed by a system of borders that effectively quarantine them into underserved districts. America has permitted our schools to become a system anathema to our ideals, funding education in a manner that prevents a vast number of students from accessing an equal start in life."
Sadly, the borders are virtually impenetrable to students who need education support the most, and it seems that school district boundaries have become symbolic for separate but totally unequal education.