• The Rochesterian in Your Inbox:

    Join 643 other subscribers

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

A report from Brookings Institution will not come as a surprise, but it’s a sobering reminder that our community remains segregated and has a giant opportunity gap.

The study looked at the role zoning and housing costs play in students’ access to high-performing schools. The report found anti-density zoning laws and rules discouraging affordable housing lead to economic and educational segregation. This is bad, because studies show economic integration raises the performance of low-income students.

The Rochester metro area scored poorly in the study:

  • Rochester has the 22nd most restrictive zoning laws in the country.
  • Rochester is the 20th most economically-segregated area in the country. 47% of low-income students would have to change zip codes to achieve an equal income distribution across schools.
  • Housing costs near high-scoring elementary schools are 2.7 times higher than housing costs near low-income elementary schools.
  • High and middle-income students score 31 percentage points higher on standardized tests than low-income students. The size of the gap is the 7th highest in the country.

Here are excerpts from the study’s discussion:

When large numbers of students are not educated up to their potential, it drains the pool of potential inventors, researchers, civic leaders, and skilled laborers that would otherwise nurture innovation and economic prosperity.


For many families, it would be cheaper to send a child to a parochial or even more expensive private school than to move into the attendance zone of a high-scoring school.


Discriminatory zoning that forbids the construction or use of inexpensive housing in affluent neighborhoods is still widespread in metropolitan America…zoning today keeps poor people out of rich neighborhoods, and accounts for a significant portion of the school test-score gap between low-income and other children.


(Education) reform ideas certainly have merit and should be carefully evaluated and considered, but they do not address one very important mechanism that sorts poor students into the lowest-scoring schools: housing policy.

I thought this was a powerful study. But in their conclusion, the authors left out the notion of a countywide school district. Given the data, it seemed obvious.

7 Responses to Segregation Hurts Education

  1. April 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm Reggie Henderson responds:

    I can see the arguments for having less restrictive zoning and more low-income housing in the suburbs. Result might be that among the poor in the city, the poor that can afford a car will more likely leave, I’m not sure how good that is for the city.

    County-wide school district? Whatever the school district is, you have the issue of kids going to their closest school, or taking longer bus rides which is a penalty that shouldn’t be levied on the students. I guess one alternative would be that if you open up a county-wide district, students that are closest to a school be given priority in registering for that school. If a school like Brighton or Pittsford is over-subscribed, then build more schools out in Brighton and Pittsford, expensive. I think that if you’re going to add a commute to a student’s schoolday, it should be voluntary. And however much segregation is hurting education, I believe that good parents can send their kids to the schools in the city and those kids will succeed. I’m not sure about the alternative that bad parents (or less intelligent, or less educated, or lacking in both time and money to devote their kids) can send their kids to schools in the suburb and those kids will succeed. Truthfully, I think more segregation in the city school district is needed. What about a whole matrix of schools ranking you below average, average, and above average on both behavior and ability. Separate out the bad behavior, it would be obviously be beneficial for the kids with good behavior, and specialists could work with the kids with bad behavior on their problems, plus if they know what’s coming, it might influence students to behave better.

  2. April 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm Kate Fall responds:

    I’d like to know more about the idea that urban residents can live without a car in Rochester. I think Reggie makes a good point, but these days, most of the jobs (and supermarkets) seem to have relocated to the suburbs. Busing is available across the county, and its not like the city offers any other public transportation. It seems like inner city residents are living farther away from jobs. I could walk to Wegmans or Target here in Webster. So I’m not sure the argument that people dependent on public transportation would stay in the city holds up.

    However, your point is definitely valid that if more people moved to Webster, we’d have to build more schools. Our schools are very crowded as it is. This is usually why people complain about new housing developments of any income. Where are we going to educate the kids, the hallways?

    My friends in Virginia and North Carolina are somewhat shocked that my children don’t have 45 minute bus rides to school, though. I mean, we’re the 20th most economically segregated area in the country: North, South, East, and West. That blows my mind. Personally, I’d like to see suburban schools stop trying to hog all the funding for astroturf while elementary schools in the city have to be closed. Can’t we come up with a better way to pool State funds?

  3. April 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm Donald Murphy responds:

    There is nothing new in the report.You can not legislate free choice on where to live. And people with school aged children have made their choice clear over the past four decades in abandoning the city due in no small part to the failure of the RCSD on just about every level. As a teacher in the RCSD and as a parent, I took the alternate of sending my daughter, reluctantly on my part, to a Catholic school for her entire education due to my knowledge and belief that there are no safe schools within the RCSD. In addition to the safety aspect, I have also been fighting for almost three decades do expose the widespread RCSD practice of hiring non licensed, non certified teachers and administrators, as well as hiding and failing to report serious crimes committed by students (and in some cases, staff) in order to avoid investigation by State and Federal agencies. The only hope for the RCSD is to go to a regional school system, which will never happen as the entrenched RCSD Board, Community Leaders and Central Office Administration refuse to surrender control and oversight to the leaders from the surrounding community. In turn those surrounding community leaders would be forced to demand and enforce a common set of student, staff and parent behaviors, expectations and discipline. A daunting task. And quite honestly, I don’t think the leaders from the surrounding Districts, nor the parents and voters from these Districts, are willing to take on the challenge of assuming that burden.

  4. April 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm Lynn E responds:

    I took 3 teenage girls to visit the U of R last week on break and one of the counselors, a wonderful woman, thought they must be from Rochester because they had dark skin. What was true and what they had in common with dark skinned city residents were the essentials, poverty and having to live in public housing projects. We have very strong racism here and it causes poverty no matter where the person lives. Some of the problems children in poverty face in suburban districts is lack of acknowledgment of that poverty. Kids may be put in remedial classes for extra help, get tutoring or even be more likely to be considered a child with a disability but providing kids with a breakfast and enough time for lunch is beyond what they consider their scope.

  5. April 19, 2012 at 7:59 pm Paula Byer responds:

    I have always believed tha a County wide school distict is highly adventageous to our County & the City of Rochester. My thought was to have the County broken up into pie like segments. It would certainly spread the school areas into better logistical areas. Most assradly a better distribution for all students.

  6. April 20, 2012 at 10:23 am Donald Murphy responds:

    Pie shaped segments…I actually find that an intriguing idea! Using the City as the center of the pie an small portion of the RCSD could be allotted to the larger community. Great idea! Still, I stand by my earlier comments that I just never see an area wide system until something is done to remove the entrenched leadership of the RCSD and replace them with leadeship that demands the same accountability of staff, parents ans students as the communities that surround the RCSD.

  7. Pingback: Teachers Don’t Understand? » The Rochesterian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *