School Rezoning and Educational Inequality: Narratives, Processes, and Outcomes

Does school rezoning reduce racial segregation and influence the distribution of teachers within school attendance zones and across schools?

School rezoning is the process of adjusting school attendance boundaries between neighborhoods or catchment areas. School systems around the country use rezoning as a policy lever to reduce inequality by balancing racial and/or economic composition of schools and to disrupt inequities in teacher quality. However, we know little about the political and policy processes of rezoning itself and the extent to which school rezoning actually reduces educational inequality by reducing racial and/or economic school segregation and by improving students’ access to high quality teachers. This mixed-methods study of school rezoning in two Virginia districts from 2020-2022 explores: 1) What narratives were used to justify school rezoning, and how did these narratives and the political process influence rezoning?; 2) To what extent did rezoning shape educational inequality by reducing or exacerbating segregation between attendance zones and schools?; and 3) How did rezoning shape educational inequality by influencing the distribution of teachers between attendance zones and schools? The team will use an exploratory sequential mixed-methods design. Phase 1 will consist of a document review of primary and secondary data sources linked to the rezoning process, using public forums and media accounts. Preliminary findings from the document review will help the team identify an initial purposive sample of 10-12 key stakeholders in each district for semi-structured interviews. Then, the team will use snowball sampling to identify 50-75 additional interviewees across the two districts. These qualitative data will be analyzed using narrative policy analysis and critical policy analysis to examine the stories used to drive school rezoning, who the process prioritizes, and who benefits from the policy. Phase 2 will explore segregation by zones and schools using multiple measures of segregation, namely the Exposure Index (P), to assess contact between students of different races and socioeconomic status and the Dissimilarity Index to assess student distribution across zones. Both measures will be used to explore the distribution of students across schools in the years prior to and after rezoning is implemented. Phase 3 will integrate the qualitative and quantitative findings to conduct within- and cross-case analyses of the two districts’ school rezoning processes.