Brookings report: zoning laws help lead to school achievement differences

A new report from the Brookings Institution suggests that zoning laws are behind differences in school achievement:

The report found that students from poorer households tend to go to schools where scores on state standardized tests are lower while more affluent students tend to go to schools with higher test scores. The findings confirm what numerous studies and a recent Sun analysis have also found.

The average student from a low-income family in Las Vegas attended a school that tested in the 43rd percentile. The average student from a middle- or high-income family went to a school that scored in the 66th percentile, according to the report, which used state test score data listed on GreatSchools.org…

Rothwell’s research went further than other studies that looked at socioeconomic data and school performance, however. His report is among the first looking at how zoning policies affect home prices and student access to high-quality schools.

Rothwell argues municipal zoning policies that restrict affordable housing have segregated students from low-income families from their more affluent peers, creating achievement gaps in schools.

Where people can live matters. We tend to have the idea in America that anyone can live anywhere. Theoretically, this is true but economically, this is not possible as it takes quite a bit of money to move to areas with better amenities like high-performing schools. Zoning plays into this by giving local governments control over how land is used. If communities decide that land can only be used for more expensive single-family housing, then housing options are limited. The summary of the full report sums it up this way:

Across the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school. This housing cost gap reflects that home values are $205,000 higher on average in the neighborhoods of high-scoring versus low-scoring schools. Near high-scoring schools, typical homes have 1.5 additional rooms and the share of housing units that are rented is roughly 30 percentage points lower than in neighborhoods near low-scoring schools.

Large metro areas with the least restrictive zoning have housing cost gaps that are 40 to 63 percentage points lower than metro areas with the most exclusionary zoning. Eliminating exclusionary zoning in a metro area would, by reducing its housing cost gap, lower its school test-score gap by an estimated 4 to 7 percentiles—a significant share of the observed gap between schools serving the average low-income versus middle/higher-income student. As the nation grapples with the growing gap between rich and poor and an economy increasingly reliant on formal education, public policies should address housing market regulations that prohibit all but the very affluent from enrolling their children in high-scoring public schools in order to promote individual social mobility and broader economic security.

A fascinating argument: eliminating some of the zoning differences across communities would reduce the educational achievement gap. However, zoning is at the heart of local government and municipalities don’t give this up easily.

One thought on “Brookings report: zoning laws help lead to school achievement differences

  1. Pingback: Chicago second in the country in economic segregation | Legally Sociable

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