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 reduced to a collection of red, green, blue and purple dots that raised 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 offered depictions of racial demographics in schools across the country. The publicly accessible website features maps for all 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of 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 of 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 raised questions in terms of white flight to suburbs, the influx of immigrants, a region’s 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 department of geography and atmospheric science.
Mann said there was an expectation education policymakers would be drawn to the site along with classroom teachers and the simply 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, the diminished integration of schools was linked to population trends and the economic impact of industries departing from areas of Alabama.
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