In this research brief, we describe and decompose school segregation by race and ethnicity in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, in which we include: the District of Columbia; Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax County in Virginia; and Montgomery County and Prince George’s County in Maryland.
We find only modest segregation within all but one of these six metro area districts, with the sole exception being D.C. proper. Segregation across the entire metro area, however, is moderate to high. The reason for this counterintuitive discrepancy is extensive segregation between the districts.
In fact, we find that roughly half of total multiracial segregation (i.e., segregation of white, black, Hispanic and Asian students), and almost two-thirds of the segregation of black and white students, is due to the sorting of students into districts, rather than schools within districts. This means that even if all six D.C. metro area districts were to integrate their schools internally, at least half of total metro areawide segregation would remain intact. Finally, we find that segregation between suburbs is a larger contributor to total metro area segregation than segregation between the city (D.C. proper) and the suburbs.
Our results illustrate the importance of between-district segregation as a factor in the overall segregation of students in the D.C. metro area. Absent the movement of students across district boundaries, there is often an “invisible ceiling” on the potential metro areawide impact of even the most successful intra-district desegregation efforts.