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School Integration in Gentrifying Neighborhoods: Evidence from New York City

Authors: Kfir Mordechay and Jennifer Ayscue, Foreword by Gary Orfield
Date Published: March 12, 2019

In gentrifying areas of New York City, this research finds that a small but growing segment of middle-class, mostly White families is choosing to enroll their children in their neighborhood public elementary schools, thus increasing the diversity in those schools. Because residential and school segregation across the nation have traditionally had a symbiotic relationship where an increase in one leads to an increase in the other, the demographic phenomenon associated with gentrification where neighborhoods become more diverse has the potential to alleviate persistent school segregation, a major cause of educational inequity.
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Executive Summary

Our analysis of neighborhoods and school enrollment patterns in New York City finds that in the most rapidly gentrifying areas, racial segregation in elementary schools has declined modestly, more so in traditional public schools (TPS) than in charters. The findings from this study are promising since diverse schools have significant advantages, not only for learning but also for preparing all groups to live and work successfully in an increasingly diverse society. However, in spite of these changes, a high level of racial segregation remains in New York City schools and much more progress is still needed.

Several major findings emerge:

  • In the city’s most rapidly gentrifying census areas, the White population has increased almost threefold, from 11% in 2000 to over 30% in 2016. Among the school-aged population (5-17 years old), the White share increased from 10% to 29% during the same time period while the share of Black and Latino school-aged children declined from 87% to 64%.
  • In these same rapidly gentrifying areas, the share of White and Asian elementary school enrollment also increased between 2001 and 2015, rising from 5.7% to 10.4%.
  • While close to four-fifths of all the elementary schools in gentrifying neighborhoods had less than 5% White enrollment in 2015, nearly one out of 10 schools had more than 25% White enrollment.
  • Between 2000 and 2015, the shares of intensely segregated (90-100% non-White) and hypersegregated (99-100% non-White) elementary schools declined in gentrifying areas of New York City, while the shares of intensely segregated and hypersegregated elementary schools increased in non-gentrifying areas.
  • The share of White students increased in both elementary charter schools and elementary TPS between 2000 and 2015 in gentrifying areas; however, a larger share of White students attended TPS than charter schools in 2015 (8.1% and 2.0%, respectively).
  • Both elementary charter schools and elementary TPS in gentrifying areas experienced a decrease in the share of intensely segregated and hypersegregated schools between 2000 and 2015. However, the overwhelming majority of charter schools remained intensely segregated or hypersegregated in 2015.
  • In 2015, nine out of 10 elementary charter schools in gentrifying areas were intensely segregated, and at the most extreme level of segregation—hypersegregation—three out of four charters remained hypersegregated, enrolling 99-100% non-White students. In 2015, 79.5% of elementary TPS were intensely segregated, but at the most extreme level of segregation, a substantially smaller share of TPS (28.2%) was hypersegregated. 


Neighborhoods undergoing massive urban-core redevelopment and metropolitan growth have a particularly ripe opportunity to harness the upsides of community change and alleviate the stark racial and economic isolation that is so pervasive in urban centers across the United States. However, housing market pressures associated with gentrification also have the potential to force longtime, low-income residents and residents of color to move out of gentrifying neighborhoods, thus leading to the resegregation of communities and schools. In order to create stable and diverse neighborhoods and schools, policy responses that link housing and schools are essential (see Mordechay & Ayscue, 2018, for detailed discussion). Although greater housing production and preservation is necessary in communities struggling to offset market pressures, in order for the outcome of gentrification to be a shared opportunity to facilitate greater desegregation, efforts at meaningful and sustainable school integration must occur alongside neighborhood changes. Left to its own devices, gentrification is unlikely to deliver on that promise.


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