Temple Times Online Edition
    November 1, 2006
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Perception of educational quality linked to racial makeup of schools

Philadelphia residents often perceived a decline in neighborhood school quality when their local schools saw at least a 2 percent rise in African-American students, according to data collected from the Philadelphia and Metropolitan Philadelphia Survey.

This perceived decline, however, is not necessarily always linked to actual school quality.

When principal investigator Kimberly Goyette, a Temple sociology professor, along with colleagues, graduate students Joshua Freely and Danielle Farrie, controlled the variables in their data set, they found that even if test scores went up and violence went down, neighborhood residents were still more likely to think poorly of schools that had experienced racial change.           

Goyette graph
The above graph shows that regardless of current school “distress” (captured by an index of current school racial composition, poverty, violence, and standardized test scores such that higher numbers indicate more distress), schools that experience an increase in the representation of African-American students of more than two percentage points, represented with a red line, are more likely to be perceived as declining in quality.  This line can be contrasted to schools that saw a decreasing percentage of African Americans (in black) and those that saw a fairly stable representation of African-American students in the past five years (in pink).

“It turns out that people just assumed that schools were getting worse based on their racial change,” Goyette said. “The implication of the model is that if the school stayed the same but only changed in the category of race, then people judged that the school was worse.”


Yet, the incorrect perception that schools are declining often prompts residents to pick up and move elsewhere, driving down property values, and subsequently causing an actual decline in school quality.

While it is clear that perception isn’t always reality, Goyette notes that the persistent perception, however incorrect, can eventually bend reality to its will.

“Perception, in a sense, becomes reality,” said Goyette. “When people move, they often make decisions based on the quality of the schools in the area, so they have to have a means of assessing the school, and use race as a proxy measure. There’s a whole residential segregation phenomenon that when people see blacks moving into their neighborhood, they automatically assume that their house values are going to go down, crime is going to go up, and their schools are going to get worse.”


The survey, which was co-sponsored by Temple’s Institute for Public Affairs and the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project in 2003 and 2004, was based on asking more than 1,000 Philadelphia residents if the quality of their neighborhood schools had increased, decreased, or stayed the same over the past five years.   


Goyette will present her research and findings at the Urban Studies Conference at Temple on Nov. 3, in Shusterman Hall. The conference is co-sponsored by the IPA and the Geography and Urban Studies department.

“21st-Century Cities: Research From Temple University”
8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.: Shusterman Hall
9:15 a.m.: Keynote Address by President Ann Weaver Hart
10 a.m.:  Diversity and Inequality
11:30 a.m.: Children, Youth and Family
2:15 p.m.: Urban and Regional Development

3:45 p.m.: Geographic Information Systems and Urban Research

For more information, call the Institute for Public Affairs at 215-204-9211


Alix Gerz




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