Zoning Children Out of a Good Education

Nate Berg examines new research linking restrictive land use regulations to academically stratified neighborhoods.
April 21, 2012, 7am PDT | Ryan Lue
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We all know the story: economically segregated neighborhoods lead to huge disparities between local tax bases, meaning rich kids go to nice schools while poor kids get stuck reading textbooks that discuss the Soviet Union in the present tense.

But new research from the Brookings Institution adds an interesting twist: the role of zoning in cultivating (or cutting off) academic diversity.

Jonathan Rothwell, the author of the report, first compared test scores in high-income and low-income neighborhoods, finding – as one might expect – a 20-percentile disparity in average test scores. Then, Rothwell observed that in neighborhoods with less restrictive zoning laws, schools demonstrated a wider variety of student income levels and test scores.

"Housing near higher-scoring schools tends to be more expensive, which can also be a function of zoning regulations that might limit affordable housing or multiple-unit housing," Berg explains.

So test scores match strongly with home prices – but the effect is stronger where land use is more controlled. "Comparing the top and bottom quartiles of regulation, more restrictive zoning is associated with a nearly 40 percentage point increase in the metropolitan housing cost gap," writes Rothwell.

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Published on Thursday, April 19, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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