KU maps bring into colorful focus lingering racial segregation of K-12 schools

Interactive website to stir debate among education policymakers, consumers

By: - September 22, 2021 12:07 pm
Bryan Mann, assistant professor of education at the University of Kansas, developed an interactive website with maps showing racial demographics of schools across the country. In this image, red dots are majority-white schools and purple dots are majority-minority schools. Lighter colors represent greater school diversity. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Bryan Mann, assistant professor of education at the University of Kansas, developed an interactive website with maps showing racial demographics of schools across the country. In this image, red dots are majority-white schools and purple dots are majority-minority schools. Lighter colors represent greater school diversity. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Researchers at the University of Kansas produced colorful interactive maps providing visual representations of an increasingly multicultural society that sustains a K-12 school system characterized by racial segregation.

It’s a reality educators and geographers translated to a collection of red, green, blue and purple dots. They raise complex questions without black-and-white answers about racial isolation of thousands of schools across the United States. KU researchers expect the images to be useful to policymakers striving to deliver equitable educational opportunity to all students regardless of residential ZIP code.

Bryan Mann, assistant professor of educational policy and leadership studies, said Geographies of Education offers depictions of racial demographics in schools across the country. The publicly accessible website features maps for all 50 states and the District of Columbia showing segregation in K-12 education.

It allows users to dig down to community or school district levels. Look no further for illustration of that capacity than mapping the bands of majority-white districts surrounding majority-nonwhite schools in Topeka and Kansas City.

“My goal and my hope is people and researchers start to see these patterns and ask why these changes are happening,” Mann said. “For example, why are there so many charter schools here? Or, why have so many schools remained racially isolated? I hope people engage with these maps. Different states are experiencing diversity differently. We’re now looking at what these changes mean for schools.”

U.S. Census Bureau reports show the United States has become an increasingly multicultural society. Students in U.S. schools can no longer be legally segregated through policy or law. However, the KU mapping project relied on the 2015-2019 American Community Survey and the 2020 Census to affirm stark racial divisions in schools.

The mapping raises questions in terms of white flight to suburbs, an influx of immigrants, regional economic transformation or other factors most often assessed by academics through the lens of history, political science and business rather than geography.

“We want to help people explore places they live, places they want to research,” Mann said. “I see this as a starting point for exploring these population changes, and as a way to view those changes in depth.”

Mann collaborated on the mapping and data-tracking site with KU graduate students Chen Liang, Kenneth Ekpetere and Titus Maxwell in the geography and atmospheric science department.

Mann said there was an expectation education policymakers would be drawn to the site along with classroom teachers and those who are curious.

“We want this to be a publicly available tool for anyone interested in using it,” he said. “If teachers are wanting to understand the populations of their schools, they can. Or, if they want to help their students understand their communities, they can.”

Mann said Geographies of Education also would serve as a repository of related academic research. For example, he said, the archive included a 2021 report co-written by Mann that examined why Alabama schools returned to a segregated footprint after moving to desegregate during the civil rights era.

In that study, he said, diminished integration of schools was linked to population trends and the economic impact of industries leaving areas of Alabama.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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