Schools and Spatial Inequality in Metropolitan Chicago

Tracy Steffes, Brown University

This paper draws from a book manuscript in progress about the role of public schooling in shaping metropolitan development and social inequality in the second half of the twentieth century through a case study of metropolitan Chicago. It draws inspiration from recent historical and social scientific scholarship that has explored schools as agents of shaping neighborhoods and community, not just reflections of residential patterns and policies. Much of this work has explored the gerrymandering of school assignment and catchment lines within cities and the way it has been used to bolster residential segregation. This project draws insights from this scholarship but fixes its gaze on the suburbs to interrogate how the boundary lines, funding, and perceived quality of public schooling helped to shape development patterns and strategies and exacerbate social and economic inequality in the metropolitan area. This paper focuses on the early post-WWII decades and how school district lines and property tax policies, including assessment practices, worked together to advantage some areas over others and shape development patterns in suburban Chicago. Yet most observers at the time understood these developments as the natural and neutral workings of the market, within the realm of citizen action and individual choices rather than policy governance. It utilizes an array of primary sources including newspapers, state and local school reports and investigations, and archival collections from real estate, educational, and housing organizations and individuals.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 208. Fighting for Access, Equity, and Funding: American Public Schools and Fiscal Policy