Residential Segregation and its Impacts on Schooling Systems in the Washington D.C. Area




Schooling districts in the Washington D.C. region has been found to be doubly segregated by both race and poverty. The consequences entail lesser qualified teachers, unchallenging material, and an emphasis on raising test scores instead of active, engaging learning. Washington D.C. is an especially fascinating city to look into because of its early roots in racial segregation and discriminatory policy-making. Personally, I am interested in researching this problem because as a student, it saddens me that other students do not have the same access to higher-quality education as I have. Attending a private school has forced me to think about the differences in the quality of education I receive now verses my previous experience attending public schools. It has led me to consider how difficult it is to receive a strong, public education in the U.S. and has prompted me to strongly support the idea that education should not be limited to any race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background. By researching how residential segregation became most prominent in a diverse region, I will be able to understand the root causes of education inequity and be able to apply my findings to the broader injustices in the education system.




The problem goes back to the early establishment of segregation in the U.S. in the 1800s. Up until 1862, there was no public schooling system for African American children in D.C. The District government created one school for these children funded by taxes on African American residents, marking the first instance of segregated schooling in D.C. After the Emancipation Proclamation, the region saw a drastic increase of African Americans due to more opportunities compared to other cities in the U.S. As a result of an increased population, segregation widened, the law ensured schools and faculty would remain segregated.

After Brown Vs. Board of Education was ruled by the Supreme Court, it was expected that desegregation would take place swiftly in the nation’s capital to serve as a role model to the country; however, it was being implemented while desegregation resistance was a leading movement in the South. On the same day as Brown Vs. Board of Education, Bolling vs. Sharpe was ruled, which was a unanimous decision to desegregate Washington D.C. The means of implementing the ruling was through a neighborhood school plan which was less than ideal in a city that was residentially segregated. It entailed that only newcomers and children transferring schools had to be assigned to new schools with both races. Also, because of overcrowding in African American schools, around 3,000 African American students were assigned to former white schools. Additionally, the plan allowed for white students to transfer to another school, which was an aspect civil rights groups considered a way to let whites avoid integration. White resistance uproared in 1962 during a football game between public schools and Catholic school champs. The Catholic school ended up winning which led to a racial battle and major investigations being taken place. As a result, many white riots took place afterwards at white high schools who received large amounts of black transfers, illustrating the backlash of integration.

Segregationist members of Congress, who controlled a lot of policy, began to hold publicized congressional hearings in 1956 to prove desegregation a threat to Washington D.C., but was met with fierce opposition from the judicial branch. The congressman controlled a subcommittee who compiled data proving that 86% of students on the track to college were white while 89% of the students on the track to working unskilled jobs were black. They produced a report stating that the results of desegregation was producing a “white flight” (Orfield 23) which was threatening to the city. Furthermore, they said it results in more juvenile delinquency as well as sex offenses while also bringing up costs and demoralizing faculty. A majority of Southern Congressman signed the Southern Manifesto to call for resistance while attacking the Supreme Court. However, in favor of desegregation, in 1967 the Judge Skelly Wright ordered an elimination of the tracking system, and in 1971, an equalized pay for teachers based per pupil. He ruled in favor of an “equitable distribution of resources” (Orfield 25), leading towards the direction of educational equity. To enforce these rulings, “optional zones” (26), which allowed the transfer of white students was ended, and instead a voluntary transfer for black students to get into white remaining schools was put in place. While these all sound like steps in the right direction, it was incredibly difficult to implement in a large city like Washington D.C. The actual processes for implementing these rulings were incredibly vague, and didn’t make sense in a residentially segregated city.


The rapid rulings of the Court resulted in large problems for school districts and courts to face. A pattern emerged where even in white neighborhoods, the schools were made up of mostly African Americans. What had happened was the Court narrowly interpreted that inequality was caused at the classroom and financial levels and enacted laws in that direction, but failed to address the residential aspect of the problem. The assignment of students to schools was proven to be an inept solution to the problem, and it’s evident now that had the Court enforced ruling based on the housing issues, this problem wouldn’t be as prominent as it is currently. Unfortunately, the repercussions still exist today, unsurprisingly being especially prominent within housing issues. In the map below, one will notice the distinct lines of segregation that exists between the blue and green dots in Washington D.C. as of 2015. The blue dots are meant to represent African Americans, while the green dots represent Caucasians (orange is representative of Hispanics, red is for citizens of Asian descent, and pink is for others). As you may see, the green dots are primarily concentrated in the northwest region of Washington D.C. which is linked to higher levels of funding in schools due to the greater socioeconomic status compared to the northeast region where the blue dots reside, which are linked with schools with lesser funding, and lower socioeconomic statuses. These lines show the residential differences through socioeconomic statuses as well as race. 

The New York Times

In order to solve this problem on a larger scale, it’s important to set the focus on the region of D.C. geographically. One potential solution would be to equally distribute households to accommodate families from all socioeconomic backgrounds. This would diversify housing districts and consequently schooling districts. As a result of diversifying districts in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds, districts will receive more equitable funding which will ensure greater amounts of resources in order for students to achieve academic success. To guarantee equitable funding, the federal government should base payment factors on a per student basis rather than the economic status of the district. As an incentive of diversifying schools, the Department of Education should encourage these schools by increasing the amount of funding allocated to them. This would provide incentive for neighboring schools to quickly diversify in order to receive more funding and encouragement from the federal government.

Thank you for viewing my project. I would highly value constructive criticism in response to this page, so feel free to contribute to the Padlet down below! If you would also like to further engage within this topic, I encourage you to respond to the survey also attached to see how all of us are impacted by this problem, so we can acknowledge how relevant this topic truly is.

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          1 Oct. 2017

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          Shifts in Education Federalism.” 

Roisman, Florence Wagman. “End Residential Racial Segregation: Build Communities That

          Look Like America.” 

Williams, David R, and Chiquita Collins. Racial Residential Segregation: A Fundamental Cause

          of Racial Disparities in Health. 2001, Racial Residential Segregation: A Fundamental

          Cause of Racial Disparities in Health,


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