LAWRENCE – Data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2020 shows that the population of the United States has diversified and is increasingly urbanizing. Yet K-12 schools remain largely segregated. A new website developed by a University of Kansas researcher uses census and demographic data to create maps for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to explore where schools are most and least segregated to help to inform discussions about how populations have changed.
Bryan Mann, assistant professor of educational policy and leadership studies, developed Geographies of education as an interactive site that provides maps of the United States showing the racial demographics of neighborhoods and schools across the country. The site contains maps for each state with data from the 2000 census. Users can select a state and view that year’s data on the left side of the map. To the right of a sliding ruler is data from the American Community Survey 2015-2019, an interim census snapshot of data similar to that collected in 10-year counts. Data from the 2020 census are added as they become available. The colored dots for thousands of individual schools represent each school’s racially isolated status, and sliding the ruler lets users see how those makeups have changed.
Mann said there are also metropolitan maps in development that cover more than one state.
“We want to help people explore the places they live, the places they want to research,” he said. “I see this as a starting point to explore these population changes and as a way to see these changes in depth.”
Geographies of Education is also home to a project featuring stand-alone maps of the United States that show how racial demographics have changed in schools across the country, as well as a map of the United States that shows types of schools. For example, users can see how many charter schools exist in different locations.
The idea of the site is not simply to highlight that racial segregation persists, but to help those who are curious as to why it exists to find out more. With this information, they can help inform decision-makers who set the laws and policies that guide schools to ensure that every student has the opportunity to receive an equitable education.
“My goal and hope is that people and researchers are starting to see these patterns and wonder why these changes are happening,” Mann said. “For example, why are there so many charter schools here? Or why have so many schools remained racially isolated? Hope people will take an interest in these cards. Different states experience diversity differently. We now take a look at what these changes mean for schools.
Mann has conducted such research before in his career, and the site also houses academic publications from this work and will also serve as a repository for future research. One example is a publication co-authored by Mann that analyzed why a section of Alabama commonly known as the Black Belt saw schools begin to fall apart after the Civil Rights Era, only to see the return of the school segregation. Data showed economic changes, such as industry leaving the region and related factors, and demographic trends were among the main reasons.
Research illustrates the unique nature of geography in education. Mann said each state’s map and school changes will be different. California and Mississippi will be very different from each other, for example, and while one can make assumptions about why, census data and research will be key to really understanding why changes are happening. are produced in a given location. Mann is working on similar research for schools in Washington, DC.
Because schools cannot legally separate by policy or law, future researchers can examine whether the causes are due to the economy, an influx of immigration, urbanization, or other factors.
Mann partnered with KU doctoral candidates Kenneth Ekpetere and Chen Liang and master’s student Titus Maxwell, all with the Department of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences, to build the site and its mapping and data tracking capabilities. The site also offers a video tutorial with Mann showing how users can search for maps, track populations, and use the tool’s maps and illustrations.
While Geographies of Education is a site dedicated to helping researchers understand American schools to inform better policy, Mann also hopes teachers and anyone interested in schools in their communities will find the site useful.
“We want this to be a publicly available tool for anyone interested in using it,” Mann said. “If teachers want to understand the populations in their schools, they can. Or if they want to help their students understand their communities, they can. Hope this helps people see these patterns in an easily accessible and easy to understand way.
Image: Website map geography of.org.