Research Summary

My research did not necessarily follow its projected path, but I’m very happy with where it ended up. I talked before in a previous blog post about switching my focus from urban/suburban districts to a singular school district (Henrico). In the end, I was able to come up with a lot more compelling data points because of that decision. My final product feels to me like it could be the first step in a much longer research project, meaning the answers I came up with really just prompted new questions for the future.

I was able to pretty clearly document the achievement gap within Henrico County using various standardized test scores. The demographic information I found also implied there is pretty significant segregation within the district based on race and class. One scholar I used in my paper, Richard Rothstein, writes a lot about how this type of segregation was designated “de facto” by the supreme court decades ago. Because of this, there is no legal incentive for state and local governments to address this problem. But, looking back at the creation of the FHA and housing insurance agencies, it’s clear that residential segregation was a direct and codified decision on the part of white officials and community members across the US. There’s a wormhole I could go down here, but I’ll leave it at that.

I had a bit of trouble analyzing how significant this segregation was, mainly because I didn’t have a system to measure its severity. I could prove it was there and fairly large, but I couldn’t put a numerical value on that. If I could go back, I would do some more research into how other people have managed to quantify segregation. Either way, Henrico’s residential segregation concentrates minority and low-income families (two demographics that disproportionately overlap — another wormhole) in a manner that restricts them from accessing the resources and opportunities offered to White students living on the West End.

A concrete solution still feels out of reach to me. So many people, White Americans, view academic performance as a measure of individual worth. And because American rhetoric has long championed individualism and personal responsibility, it’s difficult for some to imagine there are institutional forces that actively work against certain groups of people for various reasons. And these forces are very successful. Not all of them stem from blind hate, but the effects they have are the same: historically second-class citizens are restrained by modern reimaginations of their original captives, which we go on record as having done away with ages ago.

The problem is very large and the effects are very real. At this point, I’ve managed to prove that. There have been attempted solutions in the past (bussing, school choice, NCLB). Most of these attempts haven’t been as successful as they promised. We need to somehow incentivize a huge overhaul of the American school system if we want to address the various academic achievement problems in this country. But there are also many non-school factors at play that affect minority children — specifically Black youth.

In short, I opened up a can of worms with this research. There are so many more questions I have leaving this than I did coming into it. Even so, I still feel fairly accomplished for having demonstrated the achievement gap in the county I grew up in. It was something we all knew implicitly, but that I, at least, was always wary of stating outright. It’s all out there now, clear as day: Black students in Henrico County are at a disadvantage strictly because of their race. Welcome to 2018.


  1. gakokkoris says:

    This sounds like really interesting research. Your topic is related with my topic of the impact of stress on child health in low-income communities, and it’s nice to hear that someone had a few of the same problems I did. With the “wormholes” you mentioned, I definintely came across the same problem of finding related problems/topics and having to decide whether to dive into them or not. When doing this type of research it is always hard to concentrate on one area of focus because there is so much intersectionality and as you mentioned intergenerational factors that play a role in these problems. Despite this, I’m glad to see you were able to demonstrate what you we’re hoping to.

  2. Hi! I loved reading your updates for your project! While issues of inequality are really interesting to me, especially as I navigate further and further into the political world, this is all pretty upsetting–not only are black children disadvantaged in school systems, but privileged members of those communities are unwilling to initiate changes. I think the point you made about individualism and how that causes many Americans to shy away from looking at systematic causes is an insightful and important point, so I liked the ability to see the discrepancy in graph form which made it more real. I wonder if there is other accessible data that could point towards the differences in income and other factors between the two sides of Henrico–basically, more visuals to help people really see how discrete biases change the outcomes so drastically, because I think it is sometimes difficult to make those indirect connections…in short, like you said, you opened a can of worms.

    All of these issues are so intersectional, so tugging at one problem will inevitably lead to finding another. I do not believe this is an issue that originates solely within school systems, either, although certain aspects are undoubtedly ingrained in our schools. Some outside factors like housing situations and income are societal issues that are then reflected in our schools. How might school systems be able to attack these outside systems that hold back black communities? I would be really interested in seeing more in-depth research as well as some possible (feasible) solutions.

    Another thing I think is important to note in the context of this research is that systematic disadvantages are not the only means used to hold certain kids back. For a similar project related to psychology, race relations, etc. I think direct instances of racism (as opposed to institutionalized ones) should be investigated in how they affect kids’ abilities to succeed in school as well. For example, hate crimes in an area have the ability to take quite the emotional toll. Would such a safety threat affect how well a child sleeps at night, and thus their ability to focus in school? Would a bully add distractions during the day? I think these are all really important questions to have answers to…but this also means we have a lot of work cut out for us in our communities. I love seeing your dedication and work in getting the ball rolling!

  3. mncetrone says:

    Hi Elizabeth,
    I was so glad that I got to read about your research this summer. I think that the topic you chose is not only interesting, but also incredibly important and timely. I like that you were able to prove that black students in Henrico County are at a disadvantage on the basis of race – this means that you have established that there is undeniably a problem here. Your research seems to be a great combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis, which is important in studying this type of subject matter. I understand that, in some ways, it may have been frustrating attempting to measure something as broad and significant as segregation without a scale with which to measure it. However, I really admire that you were able to quantify some aspects of discrimination in the county, and that you were able to identify more questions and potential research that could be done in the future.
    As you suggested in your post, people are often quick to assume, and sometimes boast, that in 2018, especially in a place like the United States, we have done away with hate, bigotry, and inequality. This, as many know, and as you have shown in your research, is actually far from the truth. If we are to improve quality of life for the American people, we must address the problems still faced by so many disadvantaged populations in our country. While there is still much work to be done, this kind of research is a great start. Awesome job!