A Block Away, But A World Apart: Detroit And Grosse Pointe Schools Have Largest Poverty Divide In Nation

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School district borders often divide students by income — and in Detroit and many other places across the U.S., that gulf is especially wide.

That is the conclusion reached in a report released Tuesday by EdBuild, a nonprofit dedicated to overhauling the way states fund education. The report looked at neighboring school systems and found that the poverty rate can be eight times higher from one district to the next.

“You’re talking about, really, haves and have-nots that are living across an imaginary border that has become very important and has become impermeable,” said Rebecca Sibilia, founder and CEO of EdBuild.

With education budgets funded largely by property taxes, poorer school districts can’t pull in as much money as their better-off neighbors — even taking into account federal aid for poor students. Meanwhile, students who live in poverty often need more resources to succeed in school.

The starkest dividing line in the country separates Detroit from neighboring Grosse Pointe Schools, according to the report. In Detroit, 49 percent of children live in poverty, while the poverty rate in Grosse Pointe is only 7 percent. (Other recent measures of child poverty put Detroit’s rate even higher.)

The Winston Development Centers Head Start in Detroit. ( Photo by Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat )
The Winston Development Centers Head Start in Detroit. ( Photo by Erin Einhorn/Chalkbeat )

The disparity is deeply rooted. In the 1970s, black parents and the Detroit NAACP sued over racial segregation in the city’s schools. In Milliken v. Bradley, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that neighboring school districts could not be forced to participate in integration plans. Today, the income disparity between Detroit and Grosse Pointe is even greater than at the time of the court decision, according to EdBuild’s report.

“It is sadly ironic that the number one border remains the border that was decided in Milliken,” Sibilia said.

Separating students by income can have damaging effects in the classroom, said Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation, a think tank that focuses on inequality, among other issues.


“When you have concentrated poverty you tend to see the weakest outcomes for low-income students,” she said. “Students are missing out on some of those chances to learn from different exposures, different experiences than they’ve had.”

The neighboring school districts with the widest disparity in poverty rates:

  • Michigan: Detroit City School District (49.2 percent) and Grosse Pointe Public Schools (6.5 percent)
  • Alabama: Birmingham City School District (48.5 percent) and Vestavia Hills City School District (6.2 percent)
  • Alabama: Birmingham City School District (48.5 percent) and Mountain Brook City School District (7 percent)
  • Pennsylvania: Clairton City School District (48 percent) and West Jefferson Hills School District (7 percent)
  • Ohio: Dayton City School District (47.2 percent) and Beavercreek City School District (6.58 percent)
  • Arizona: Balsz Elementary District (51 percent) and Scottsdale Unified District (11 percent)
  • Ohio: Dayton City School District (47.2 percent) and Oakwood City School District (6.96 percent)
  • Ohio: Youngstown City School District (46 percent) and Poland Local School District (7 percent)
  • Colorado: Sheridan School District 2 (49 percent) and Littleton School District 6 (9 percent)
  • Illinois: Carbon Cliff Barstow School District (45 percent) and Geneseo Community Unit School District 228 (6 percent)

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

  • This is a great example on why you should work hard and get a high paying job. Now the author would have you believe it is moral to take the harder working persons money and give it to the poor. That is theft. Progressives do all they can to destroy religion and families, and then hold moral, families responsible for the condition of the poor.

    • That’s a bunch of bull, Stephen. Progressives want equal opportunities and they want higher wages. People shouldn’t be working full time and still be in poverty. If you want people to work, you have to pay them a decent wage. And they shouldn’t go bankrupt because some jackass pharmaceutical company jacked up the price of their medication 500% for no reason.

    • Really dude. It’s not theft. It’s called decency. And just because you work really hard it doesn’t mean you are going to make a lot of money. It depends on your education. And if you happen to be born into poverty the education system fails you. And if you manage to succeed in a broken system then you can’t afford to go to college. Only 65% of Detroit Public School students graduate with only a tiny fraction of that going on to college. You can’t conclude that all of those student don’t work hard and are lazy. Come on man. Your stupidity is beyond outrageous!

  • Unfortunately Birmingham MI schools have 6 of the 10 most segregating boundaries and if you added Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills together the statistics would get even more embarrassing – for historical reasons but I live in a bubble. When the “white flight” occurred in the 1960s and suburbs like ours got built the developers were allowed to create and join new school districts to protect their own children (understandable at the time although still not good) Detroit should not have allowed this to happen but was in such a melt down at the time that they had no political power to insist upon it. Other US cities grew by extending their own boundaries and Detroit’s failure to do so is one of the biggest reasons Detroit is a mess – if everyone in the Detroit Metro lived in Detroit Public Schools, all the able parents in the now well resourced school districts would fight to push up standards. Then we would have comprehensive education – with its flaws but for the masses it would be better. I am so sad that Pontiac have stopped sending their brightest kids to the International Academy of Bloomfield Hills where my boys attend, all be it that the only ones who came in recent years had parents that were teachers who knew the system…….the Pontiac middle-schoolers are otherwise so badly prepared they did not survive at the IA event if bright – food for thought and I don’t know what the answer is now. I am English and we have comprehensive education, wealthy people send their children to private schools still and we have a conservative government – America baby you need to grow up!

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