Many districts exhibit a large difference between their best and worst schools
NEW YORK, NY – Most parents, hoping to provide their children with the best education possible, understand that school quality varies within a given district. But to what extent? In a new Manhattan Institute report, senior fellow Marcus Winters quantifies the gap in school quality within 68 American school districts. This school quality difference index shows that many cities have a variance of 15-20 percentage points between their best and worst schools. Some, like New York City, exhibit much wider gaps—a sign of the inequality among the district’s schools. Others have greater equality among their school offerings—but it can be an equality of dismal options, as in the cases of Detroit, MI, and Birmingham, AL.
Overall, Winters concludes that few of America’s largest public-school districts offer consistently decent schools, but many low-quality districts have pockets of decent schools within them. In 16 percent of districts analyzed, those pockets far outperform some of the other schools in the district, creating a quality gap between best and worst schools that is more than 25 percentage points.
The report also investigates whether a district’s proportion of low-income or nonwhite students affects its variance in quality, finding that there is no significant correlation. There is, however, a greater likelihood of inequality if low-income and nonwhite students are heavily concentrated within particular schools in a district.