Working Papers

Please email Peter for copies of these working papers: peter.rich@cornell.edu

Rich, Peter. “Race, Resources, and Test-Scores: What Schooling Characteristics Motivate the Housing Choices of White and Black Parents?” Working paper.

Does the racial composition of local schools impact where parents choose to live? Using a discrete choice model with geocoded household addresses from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, I compare where mobile parents and non-parents move and how their decisions vary by race and neighborhood characteristics. White parents are especially likely to sort into school districts and neighborhoods with mostly-white student populations. The behavior is independent of sorting by home-ownership and by neighborhoods’ average home size, cost, income, unemployment, poverty, and proximity to commercial districts. In contrast, black housing selection trends toward neighborhoods with integrated schools and does not vary between parents and non-parents. Crucially, school factors—poverty level, class size, per pupil funding, and test scores—fail to explain white parents’ distinct inclination toward neighborhoods with segregated white public schools. As white parents secure perceived educational advantages for their own children, they express and fortify a legacy of racial inequality.

Note: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1519017. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.  Geographic crosswalks are available here.


Rich, Peter. “White Parental  Flight and Avoidance: Neighborhood Choices in the Era of School District Desegregation.” Working Paper.

Parents’ concerns about local schools may be a substantial force driving racial residential segregation in the post-Civil Rights Era, but direct causal evidence of school-related sorting has been sparse. This study merges mobility histories from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics with local school district data from 1968-1990 to analyze how micro-level residential choices changed in response to mandated school desegregation plans. Event history analyses reveal that desegregation plans triggered an extra 4.7 percent of white households to move from their local district, and that parents were the most responsive. A discrete choice analysis of neighborhood selection shows that mobile white parents were almost half as likely as mobile childless households to move into neighborhoods in desegregating districts; in the South, desegregation plans turned formerly attractive neighborhoods into unattractive options for young white parents, but in the non-South, white parents avoided neighborhoods in desegregating districts even before the plans were implemented. Local schooling conditions clearly affected white parents, whose distinctive flight and avoidance behavior contributed to a macro pattern of racial segregation between districts that prevails today.

Recipient of three American Sociological Association paper awards: the 2016 David Lee Stevenson Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper (Sociology of Education), the 2016 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award (Inequality, Poverty and Mobility), and the 2016 Graduate Student Paper Award (Sociology of Population).


Rich, Peter, Jennifer Candipan, and Ann Owens. ““Segregated Neighborhoods, Segregated Schools: Do Charters Break a Stubborn Link?” Under review. 

Residential and school segregation historically mirrored one another, with school segregation seen as simply reflecting residential patterns due to neighborhood-based school assignment policy. We argue that the relationship is circular, with school options also influencing residential outcomes. To explore this, we examine what happens when neighborhood and school options are decoupled via public school choice in the form of charter schools. We hypothesize that the expansion of charter schools could simultaneously lead to an increase in school segregation and a decrease in residential segregation. We test this hypothesis with data from the Census and the Common Core of Data in a national sample of over 1,500 districts. We find that Black-White school segregation increased and residential segregation declined in response to increases in charter enrollment share from 2000 to 2010. In districts with charter schools, the average increase in charter enrollment share corresponded to an 8 percent increase in school segregation and 2 percent decline in residential segregation. We found no relationship between charter school expansion and school segregation between White and Hispanic or Asian students, perhaps because Hispanic and Asian students attend more racially diverse charters than White or Black students. White-Hispanic, but not White-Asian, residential segregation also declined as charter enrollment increased. Our findings provide evidence that school considerations constrain residential choice. Decoupling these two contexts via public school choice results in their segregation patterns moving in opposite directions, rather than mirroring one another. Our findings provide a cautionary lesson for unfettered expansion of choice without integration imperatives.


Michelmore, Katherine and Peter Rich (equal authors). “Contextual Origins of Black-White Educational Disparities in the 21st Century.” Under review.

How much do black-white disparities in educational outcomes reflect differences in family, school, and neighborhood contexts? We use sixteen years of statewide student administrative data from Michigan to update this classic sociological question with new longitudinal precision. We show that a cross-sectional measure of family socioeconomic disadvantage—commonly used in most education research—explains about 30 percent less of the black-white gap in various educational outcomes than a richer, longitudinal measure. Cross-sectional measures mask profound differences by race in the duration of family socioeconomic disadvantage. Black children more frequently experience persistent family socioeconomic disadvantage that negatively correlates with test scores, high school completion, and college entry. After controlling for this multi-generational correlation, we also show that racial differences in school context—much more than differences in neighborhood context—explain a large portion of remaining black-white educational disparities. Controlling for black-white differences across all three contexts not only reduces test score gaps by half, but also completely reverses educational attainment gaps, revealing a black net advantage. Our results demonstrate the need to incorporate longitudinal measures in educational administrative data, and suggest that segregated schools play a significant role in the persistence of racial educational inequality in the 21st century.

Note: This material  is based upon work supported by the Cornell Population Center and the Syracuse Center for Aging and Policy Studies 2016-17 CPC-CAPS Upstate Population Consortium Seed Grant Program.