By Peter Ciurczak
February 28, 2020
…Malden High School. If you picked two students from Malden High School at random, there’d be a 76 percent chance that they’d be of different races. This means it has a good mix of students from several different racial backgrounds, rather than having one or two groups make up the vast majority. It’s also pretty diverse in terms of student income—44 percent of students are “economically disadvantaged” compared to 56 percent who are not (the state split is 33 percent/67 percent). The tool below uses newly released school enrollment data for this current school year to show how every school or district in the state compares.
School diversity is something many families want for their kids—both because it reflects important social values and because it often leads to better academic outcomes. Attending racially and economically diverse schools is associated with lower achievement gaps, increased enrollment in college and post-secondary degree completion. Even though it’s something families often value, many school ranking tools don’t include diversity as a measure. So we’ve created this resource to help people better understand how a given school or district’s level of diversity compares. For racial diversity, we use the “diversity index,” which calculates the chance that two students selected at random would be of a different races.
For economic diversity, we look at the share of students who are "economically disadvantaged,” which roughly captures the number of kids who live in lower-income households, and compare this to the statewide share of around 33 percent. The closer a school or district is to the state share of economically disadvantaged students, the more integrated we consider it to be.
Malden is also the most racially diverse school district in the state, although this hasn’t always been the case. Remarkably, Malden’s diversity index roughly tripled over the last 30 years (26 percent in 1990 versus 77 percent today). Malden Public Schools were 86 percent white in 1990, compared to 28 percent today. Driven by a range of things like rising housing costs in Boston, location near public transit, and growing immigrant neighborhoods, Malden is among a handful of urban Boston suburbs that have transformed rapidly over this time.
The table below allows you to compare some of this data for every school in the state. The three most racially diverse schools statewide are elementary schools in Cambridge. Cambridge’s one high school—Cambridge Rindge and Latin—is also in the top 25. As we noted earlier, Malden High School is the most diverse high school statewide, and a total of five Malden schools make this top 25 list. Eight Boston schools make the list, including Boston Latin Academy, which is remarkably diverse both in terms of race and in terms of income—its “economically disadvantaged” share of 32 percent almost exactly mirror’s the state’s (33 percent).
There’s also a lot of variation within districts, especially Boston, which has a growing number of racially and economically isolated schools. As an example, the graphs below show two of the largest elementary schools in Boston, which have very different levels of racial diversity. While the Condon has small shares of Asian and multiracial students, it’s still relatively diverse due to significant white, Black and Latino student shares. Donald McKay is at the other end of the spectrum: Almost 9 in 10 students are Latino.
School populations often loosely reflect residential patterns, which are driven by factors like immigration, housing policy and transportation. They also reflect community-level decisions like different student assignment policies. We’ve seen positive changes on some of these fronts, but certainly not all, and we are left with some woeful imbalances on the segregation front (see our recent report, Kids Today).
So, as we keep our eye on the goal of greater integration and school diversity, these data provide a useful tool for comparing the distribution of students each year. Moreover, as these kids grow up and start families of their own, these data may also serve as a glimpse into the future.
[This is an online version of our Boston Research Snapshot email newsletter from February, 2020. Sign up to get the newsletter in your inbox every month.]