Transportation and Geographic Constraints to Educational Access and School Integration in a Context of School Choice
Honey, Ngaire Noelle
Despite a national call from advocacy groups and the U.S. Department of Education for expanded choice, students residing in segregated urban neighborhoods are often locked out of school options due to limited access to the transportation networks required to optimize school options. Consequently, students’ choices are often limited to their assigned school comprised of students from proximal segregated neighborhoods. The intersection of school choice, racial integration, and the geography of opportunity is addressed in this dissertation. I examine the enrollment patterns of public secondary school students in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) as an illustrative case of this convergence. MNPS has created a robust school choice system; however, school buses are provided only for assigned zone schools and select charter schools. A unique administrative dataset with student addresses from 2011 to 2015, census tract data from the American Community Survey, and travel times on public transportation calculated with Google Maps are used to analyze distinctions in enrollment patterns by neighborhood characteristics, assignment to an integrated school, and enrollment in an integrated school. In late 2014 MNPS partnered with the Metro Transit Authority to provide public high school students with a bus pass (StrIDe). Descriptive statistics, GIS analysis, OLS and logistic regression, as well as differences-in-differences analyses are conducted to evaluate enrollment patterns and changes as students are granted access to bus passes. Findings suggest students enroll in schools that demographically reflect their residential neighborhood. Even with school choice options, a larger proportion of students zoned to an integrated school enroll in an integrated school than the proportion of their counterparts zoned to a racially identifiable school. Eligibility for StrIDe is associated with attending a school with more academically proficient peers and a higher likelihood of attending a choice school, an integrated school, and a school with a high value-added score. The StrIDe policy is associated with changes for students near transit routes, but expanded policies may be necessary to reach students residing far from the city center.