Schools are supposed to represent the areas they are placed in. But what is not examined thoroughly enough is what shaped those neighborhoods, and a report from Vox seeks to make these connections known.

Using newly published studies from Tomas Monarrez and Meredith P. Richards, Alvin Chang makes the case that over time, in American city after American city, policies were pushed and produced to create a higher concentration of wealthier and whiter communities. This has created schools which function in perpetual inequality because of the tendency for wealthier and whiter schools to be given better funding.

Chang cites The Civil Rights Project, a UCLA study of Brown vs the Board of Education which found that schools in the American South are as segregated as they were pre-the Brown ruling. Chang uses this to build an argument for drawing districts based on school zones instead of forcing children to merely go to the nearest elementary school.

According to Richards and Monarrez’s studies, most schools actually use district lines to perpetuate the residential segregation that lies underneath neighborhoods. These are local decisions, and Chang notes that the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that districts which register a significant amount of Democrats generally have reduced segregation lines.

Chang spends a good deal of time exploring the white flight that occurred after Brown v. Board, which he astutely notes was aided by racist government policies that ensured whites-only suburbs by way of development loans. He uses this to present the idea of mixing students from different zones, but the precedent set by the Supreme Court in 1974’s Milliken v. Bradley, which ruled that districts did not have to integrate if the district lines can not be proven to be drawn with racist intent, puts a hamper on this idea.

Additionally, a 2007 ruling states that a school board cannot use the race of an individual student but can use demographic data to decide where to build new schools or draw zones. Even though these Supreme Court decisions are limited in scope, that has not stopped them from being used to assist in segregating school zones.

Chang summarizes at the close of his reporting:

This means America’s long history of socially engineering where people live has not only segregated neighborhoods and schools; it’s also created maps in our heads that tell us what is familiar, what is not, what is scary, what is safe.And ultimately, we make small decisions based on these emotions that accrue into segregated neighborhoods and segregated schools. That’s what makes this data and research so powerful. They give us some baseline to challenge the imaginary fences, which ultimately allow schools to be separated by race.