School Diversity

Nabeel Gillani

Across most school districts in America, school attendance boundaries play an important role in determining which schools children are assigned to attend.  However, boundaries are often drawn in ways that lead students to attend the schools closest to their homes—recapitulating segregation in schools that reflects historically-rooted patterns of neighborhood segregation by race and income.  Beyond its role in perpetuating achievement gaps, segregation also threatens to prevent students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds from interacting with and learning from one another, both of which are important preconditions for cultivating empathy and respect for people with different life experiences—two bedrocks of a healthy pluralistic democracy.  While boundary changes could promote more diversity in schools, many parents fear how such changes might adversely affect their children’s educational experiences and outcomes, making it difficult for districts to pursue boundary changes as a strategy for promoting diversity in schools.  This project pursues a series of multidisciplinary research studies to explore how we might redraw attendance boundaries across US public school districts to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools — in practical ways that students and parents would support.  Some of our research questions include:

1. How might we use methods from artificial intelligence to propose alternative boundaries that can help reduce racial and socioeconomic segregation in schools — subject to constraints around increases in travel times, school size, and other factors families value?

2. Which communications techniques affect how school district leaders and families respond to alternative boundaries?