Julia Burdick-Will found it was actually children in affluent neighborhoods who stayed close to home for school. In lower-income neighborhoods, kids in search of better options dispersed to dozens of other schools, often commuting alone for miles.
In Chicago neighborhoods with a median household income of more than $75,000, most students attended one of two or three schools. But when the neighborhood median income dropped to less than $25,000, students dispersed to an average of 13 different schools…In affluent neighborhoods almost no one traveled 4 miles to school; the average commute was about 1.7 miles. But in disadvantaged neighborhoods, the average commute for children was 2.7 miles, with 25 percent of the kids traveling more than 4 miles. Ten percent of the low-income kids traveled more than 6 miles…
In low-income neighborhoods the problem isn’t just access, Burdick-Will said, but the potential social costs of traveling far across the city every day, possibly alone—costs that don’t apply to similarly achieving students in higher income neighborhoods.
An interesting paradox. Typically, wealth means mobility: they can seek out opportunities far and near, move to new locations when need by, afford the transportation costs. We imagine poorer residents stuck in neighborhoods with little opportunity to leave – and evidence from Robert Sampson in Great American City suggests even when afforded the opportunity to leave, many poor residents turn to similar poor locations.
Yet, public schools are one of the more local institutions in the United States. People move to neighborhoods and communities for the quality of their schools. The majority of property taxes go to local schools. Local school board officials are often elected and want to shape their local institutions. Community events are often held in these schools. They are a source of pride if the schools do well, a source of concern if they are not doing well.
Given that, it makes sense that Burdick-Will would suggest it is a burden for kids to go further for school. And that burden is on top of the other obstacles children in poorer neighborhoods face.