Posted on December 11th, 2012

Back to School – School Redistricting

Researchers from universities all over the world got together to study the impacts of school redistricting. They used GIS to make the most logical, and fair, districts which ensure students are given the best opportunity for education, as well as to have the minimum travel time from home to school. School redistricting is often done in response to overcrowding, decline in enrollments as well as considerations for schools that are planned to be opened or closed. The biggest dilemma in school redistricting is balancing the need for overall efficiency vis-à-vis individual convenience. There is also an element of geography in redistricting as contiguous districts are always preferred.

An issue that is unique to American schools is the distribution of grade levels. Some districts may have K-8 schools, while others may do K-5, or K-6. This mixture of grades can cause confusion when redistricting occurs; for instance, it can create a situation where siblings are split up, making it hard for parents to juggle different school schedules.

In their study, the researchers had two purposes. First, to model a school districting problem so that it accurately addresses the issues that face the majority of school districts, providing a mathematical algorithm to solve these problems. And second, to implement the model with an intuitive and interactive interface that allows users to tweak the model to address specific problems they face. The two features that are unique to all school redistricting models are: the geographic units where students live must be assigned to schools; and the students assigned to schools cannot exceed available space.

The researchers developed seven criteria that should be associated with any satisfactory school district. (1) Each block is assigned to one school. (2) School assignments must not need exceed each school’s capacity. (3) Each school district must be contiguous. (4) No school boundary can cut across geographic boundaries such as railroads or rivers. (5) There should be a maximum distance traveled that applies to all students. (6) All students on the same block must go to the same school unless the corresponding school doesn’t have that grade. (7) And all new districts must maintain some semblance to the current district boundaries to avoid creating any secondary issues.


The redistricting allowed for contiguous districts in one portion of the study area, but not throughout. However, it did decrease travel time for students overall by 20%, as well as greatly reduce overcrowding in the areas of most concern.

Using Philadelphia as a case study, the researchers found that as capacities for grades became more stringent, walking distances increased. Also, if students weren’t uniformly distributed by race (which was usually the case), there was a trade-off between achieving a racial balance and keeping contiguous boundaries. The biggest issue the researchers had with their model was the lack of uniform grade levels which could create complex district boundaries to assure students maintained their current grade structuring. As such, a major conclusion of the study was implementation of a uniform grade structure such as K-5, 6-8 and 9-12. This would make school redistricting less complex and more productive from a modeling, implementation and geographic perspective – but most importantly, less stressful on parents and students alike.

Justin Harmon

Staff Writer

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