The Urban Review

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 507–534 | Cite as

Race, Choice and Richmond Public Schools: New Possibilities and Ongoing Challenges for Diversity in Urban Districts

  • Genevieve Siegel-Hawley


Several contemporary demographic trends suggest that school systems in America’s central cities, typically characterized by high levels of racial and economic isolation, are being presented with new opportunities to create quality, diverse schools. Still, numerous obstacles linger. Using multiple sources of data and innovative mapping tools, this case study explores an urban district experiencing population growth and change and several different manifestations of school choice. Analyses indicate that levels of black-white elementary school segregation have risen rapidly over the past two decades, and now surpass residential segregation levels. The increase in school segregation has occurred alongside a district policy emphasis on both choice and neighborhood schools. While the current elementary school zones present a number of opportunities for further racial and economic diversity, high shares of students transferring out of their zone—either to another setting in the district or to a private school—undermine those possibilities. The example of Richmond, Virginia has important policy implications for countless other urban districts grappling with demographic shifts and the growth and popularity of school choice. Both trends offer crucial possibilities for central city school systems, but without careful attention to policy, will likely result in further stratification.


Racial diversity School choice Desegregation Open enrollment Student assignment policy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational LeadershipVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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