Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Marcus L Britton

Committee Members

Timothy L O'Brien, Aneesh Aneesh, Natasha Quadlin


Accountability Ratings, Experimental Methods, Multilevel Models, Racial/Ethnic Inequality, School Inequality, School Segregation


Overview. This dissertation examines how school accountability ratings are associated with school segregation, how they shape public perceptions of school quality and how they influence parents’ enrollment decisions. In theory, school ratings were developed to raise achievement for all students by identifying poor performing schools and intervening to improve them. Across the United States, school segregation concentrates Black, Latinx and lower income students in schools with low average test scores. As such, school ratings may both reflect and even reinforce educational inequalities associated with school segregation because a component of the rating relies on performance on standardized exams. To the extent that ratings reflect which groups of students attend which schools rather than how effectively schools serve their student populations, the system may be problematic. Scholars have yet to understand the association of school ratings and school segregation. This is an important consideration, not only because ratings may reflect broader patterns of inequality, but also because they may serve as a resource for stakeholders, including public officials and parents who may rely on ratings as an indication of school quality. Internationally, the publication of school ratings has led to lower enrollment and school closures, but it is unclear how ratings are associated with segregation or how they impact parent’s perceptions and attitudes within the United States. This dissertation addresses three key questions: Are school ratings associated with school segregation? If so, by what metric (i.e. within- or between-district segregation)? Do ratings influence parent’s perceptions and attitudes? I answer these by examining school report cards and school segregation across 112 metropolitan regions. By using original data from a survey experiment, I am also able to examine causal effects of school ratings on parents’ perceptions and attitudes. Findings show that in more segregated metropolitan regions, schools with higher proportions of Black students have higher probabilities of receiving a lower school rating relative to a higher one. Moreover, I show that parents’ perceptions of school quality are significantly less favorable when shown a school profile with a lower school rating and that parents’ are less likely to enroll their children in a hypothetical school with a lower rating (C-F).

Intellectual Merit. Segregation researchers argue that the distribution of resources and their effect on students’ educational outcomes is poorly understood (Reardon and Owens 2014). This project contributes to the scholarly literature in two ways. First, I conceptualize school ratings as a resource vital to the educational experience of students which impacts students, families and schools differently in patterns that are reflective of existing social inequality. Second, I contribute to sociological understanding of the relationships among race/ethnicity, class, schools, variations in accountability policies in general, and perceptions of school quality and enrollment decisions. These are significant contributions because they have the potential to transform future school segregation research as well as the design and dissemination of educational accountability metrics.

Broader Impacts. Findings from this research provide benefits to scholars across multiple disciplines allowing sociologists, educational researchers, methodologists and policy makers to effectively collaborate. The scientific contributions of this research include the expansion of theory and the treatment of accountability policies as a resource that plays a key role in parental decision making, which, in turn, may influence school segregation patterns. Methodologists likely gain a richer understanding of how perceptions vary and depend on conditions of school quality indicators. Results from this study offer empirical evidence for the implementation and dissemination of alternative accountability metrics that are reliable and accurate estimates of how well schools and districts serve their students. This should prove informative to educational researchers and policy makers. The scope of this research has the potential to impact anyone conducting research on the association of school segregation and educational policy as well as those studying housing and public perceptions.

Included in

Sociology Commons