What does gentrification mean for local schools? Fewer students

January 23, 2020


The latest findings also show that gentrification is relatively rare. But where it does happen, the changes have real — and complex — consequences for students, as schools may be forced to grapple with budget cuts but neighborhoods also see declining crime rates.

“It really is a mixed bag,” said Francis Pearman, the Stanford professor who conducted the new study. “There’s no clear story to tell.”

Pearman examined neighborhoods in urban and suburban areas across the U.S. He considers a neighborhood as subject to gentrification if, in 2000, it had a low average household income and had seen relatively little new housing built in the previous decades. Then he examined whether, by 2014, a neighborhood had seen an influx of college-educated residents and an increase in real housing values.

By this definition, less than one in five urban and suburban public schools were in “gentrifiable” neighborhoods to begin with. Of those, about one in five did in fact gentrify.

That means a total of 4% of public schools in metro areas experienced gentrification between 2000 and 2014. Looking just within cities, the share approaches 8%, aligning with other recent national studies showing that gentrification is a relatively rare phenomenon, with substantial variation from city to city.

When neighborhoods do gentrify, Pearman found, local district schools tend to lose students. The average drop is small: 17 students, or 3% of enrollment. This comes from a decline in low-income and Hispanic students, with no countervailing increase in affluent or white students.

These findings aren’t surprising. Pearman’s prior work has shown that gentrification is more likely when an area offers a lot of school choices; other research has found that in many cities, neighborhoods have grown racially integrated but schools have not.