Niche Resources
Niche Resources
Niche Resources

Equal Access to Education: How Far Have We Come?

Sixty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that “separate education facilities are inherently unequal,” in theory, ending the practice of segregated schools. While landmark in its decision in paving the way for the civil rights movement, the U.S., unfortunately, is still a nation where students do not have equal access to quality education.

Whether this has to do with historical and arbitrary town lines, unequal funding, inconsistent standards for students and teachers, school choice, or other factors, the fact of the matter is for every student in the United States, access to quality education isn’t a given. Far from it. In some areas, the disparity and inequality between those who have access and those who don’t is fairly extreme.

But has this ruling, while insufficient, still significantly impacted access to education in the U.S.?

In order to answer that question, we first needed to find a way to measure this inequality of education. To do so, we can look to the common measure of economic inequality — the Gini coefficient — and mimic it.

The Gini coefficient, typically, is a measure of the concentration of money in a group of people, and ranges from 0 to 100, with larger numbers representing more unequal economic conditions. For example, if an area had a Gini coefficient of 100, only one person would have all of the region’s income (complete concentration of money). On the other hand, in an area with a Gini coefficient of 0, everyone in that area would have exactly the same income.

These extremes don’t happen in practice, but the same general interpretation can be applied to compare inequalities in different places.

For example, the Gini coefficient of the United States is 45 while Sweden is 24.9, meaning there is more income inequality in the U.S. than in Sweden. When comparing metro areas in the United States, New York City has a coefficient of 54.7 while Fremont, CA is 39.7. The money in NYC is more concentrated among a small group of people, while in Fremont it’s further spread out among the residents.

We took this measure and applied it to education.

As a proxy for income, we assumed each student at a school receives an “income” equal to the quality of the school they attend as determined by the Niche school rankings*. Although this isn’t perfect, it’s a way to approximate the inequality of an area using the same principle economists use with income.

We calculated the Gini coefficient for every town in the United States that had at least 10 public schools.

See the full list of cities ranked by clicking here.

You can see that Virginia Beach, VA has the most equal access to education with a Gini coefficient of 35. Cincinnati, OH with a Gini coefficient of 74 has the least equal access to education.

In general, smaller metros had more equal access than larger metro areas with lots of city public schools. This makes intuitive sense, as cities such as Chicago and L.A. that serve a larger population face a bigger challenge in equalizing opportunity across more schools.  

But equality of access is only part of the debate; what about quality of education?

One important thing to remember is the Gini coefficient only measures inequality. It’s possible for two countries to have similar Gini coefficients, yet different total wealth. Consider Ghana and Greece. While these countries are quite similar in their income inequality with Gini coefficients of 66 and 67, respectively, the economic situations are drastically different due to Greece having more than 4x the total wealth of Ghana.  

Similarly, it’s possible for all the students in a town to have equal access to education, and that equal access is to lower quality schools. The full picture of education access requires understanding both equality and quality.

We can compare the Gini coefficient for education (as a measure of equal access) to the Niche public schools grade (as a measure of education quality) for an area. Using the tool below you can see, for example, that Virginia Beach not only excels in education equality but also has great public schools.

Use this tool to explore how your town performs.  

School Equality Scatterplot

When Niche assesses a school, we strive to capture the overall quality of a school; what it’s really like. Although things like test scores and graduation rates are important factors, we also include things like diversity, extracurricular activities, educational outcomes (SAT/ACT scores, quality of colleges attended), and what students and parents say about the school. We believe that combining all of these things captures a truer picture of the school and the quality of education a student receives.

The Bottom Line

We are far from establishing equal access to quality education for all students. However, a few smaller cities are making strides in the right direction and even San Francisco, with a Gini Index of 66 (bottom 10th-percentile) continues to try new approaches to fight school segregation.

Additionally, this analysis only looks at cities, but it is likely that some of the largest disparities exist between cities and their suburbs. We’ll continue to explore this in order to better understand the progress, or lack thereof, we as a nation are making toward better and more equitable education for all.

U.S. Cities Ranked by Gini Coefficient

Rank Town Niche Public School Grade Education Gini Index Inequality Percentile
Rank 1
Niche Public School Grade A
Education Gini Index 34.7
Inequality Percentile 100%
Rank 2
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 35.6
Inequality Percentile 99%
Rank 3
Town Irving, TX
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 37.8
Inequality Percentile 98%
Rank 4
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 40.3
Inequality Percentile 97%
Rank 5
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 41.1
Inequality Percentile 96%
Rank 6
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 42.1
Inequality Percentile 95%
Rank 7
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 42.6
Inequality Percentile 94%
Rank 8
Town Dallas, TX
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 43.3
Inequality Percentile 93%
Rank 9
Niche Public School Grade A
Education Gini Index 43.8
Inequality Percentile 91%
Rank 10
Town Akron, OH
Niche Public School Grade C
Education Gini Index 44.9
Inequality Percentile 90%
Rank 11
Town Tampa, FL
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 45.5
Inequality Percentile 89%
Rank 12
Niche Public School Grade D+
Education Gini Index 46.4
Inequality Percentile 88%
Rank 13
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 46.7
Inequality Percentile 87%
Rank 14
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 46.7
Inequality Percentile 86%
Rank 15
Niche Public School Grade A-
Education Gini Index 47.2
Inequality Percentile 85%
Rank 16
Niche Public School Grade A-
Education Gini Index 47.9
Inequality Percentile 84%
Rank 17
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 48.5
Inequality Percentile 83%
Rank 18
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 49.1
Inequality Percentile 82%
Rank 19
Niche Public School Grade A-
Education Gini Index 49.9
Inequality Percentile 81%
Rank 20
Niche Public School Grade A-
Education Gini Index 49.9
Inequality Percentile 80%
Rank 21
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 50.0
Inequality Percentile 79%
Rank 22
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 50.2
Inequality Percentile 78%
Rank 23
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 50.3
Inequality Percentile 77%
Rank 24
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 50.4
Inequality Percentile 76%
Rank 25
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 50.6
Inequality Percentile 74%
Rank 26
Town Miami, FL
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 51.2
Inequality Percentile 73%
Rank 27
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 51.3
Inequality Percentile 72%
Rank 28
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 51.6
Inequality Percentile 71%
Rank 29
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 52.0
Inequality Percentile 70%
Rank 30
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 52.2
Inequality Percentile 69%
Rank 31
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 52.2
Inequality Percentile 68%
Rank 32
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 52.2
Inequality Percentile 67%
Rank 33
Town Toledo, OH
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 52.4
Inequality Percentile 66%
Rank 34
Town Reno, NV
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 52.5
Inequality Percentile 65%
Rank 35
Niche Public School Grade A-
Education Gini Index 52.9
Inequality Percentile 64%
Rank 36
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 53.3
Inequality Percentile 63%
Rank 37
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 53.5
Inequality Percentile 62%
Rank 38
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 53.7
Inequality Percentile 61%
Rank 39
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 53.8
Inequality Percentile 60%
Rank 40
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 53.9
Inequality Percentile 59%
Rank 41
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 53.9
Inequality Percentile 57%
Rank 42
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 54.0
Inequality Percentile 56%
Rank 43
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 54.3
Inequality Percentile 55%
Rank 44
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 54.6
Inequality Percentile 54%
Rank 45
Niche Public School Grade A
Education Gini Index 54.7
Inequality Percentile 53%
Rank 46
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 54.7
Inequality Percentile 52%
Rank 47
Town Queens, NY
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 55.1
Inequality Percentile 51%
Rank 48
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 55.6
Inequality Percentile 50%
Rank 49
Town Durham, NC
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 55.8
Inequality Percentile 49%
Rank 50
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 55.8
Inequality Percentile 48%
Rank 51
Town Mesa, AZ
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 56.0
Inequality Percentile 47%
Rank 52
Town Austin, TX
Niche Public School Grade A
Education Gini Index 56.6
Inequality Percentile 46%
Rank 53
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 57.0
Inequality Percentile 45%
Rank 54
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 57.0
Inequality Percentile 44%
Rank 55
Town Aurora, CO
Niche Public School Grade A
Education Gini Index 57.1
Inequality Percentile 43%
Rank 56
Niche Public School Grade A-
Education Gini Index 57.2
Inequality Percentile 41%
Rank 57
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 57.4
Inequality Percentile 40%
Rank 58
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 57.7
Inequality Percentile 39%
Rank 59
Niche Public School Grade D+
Education Gini Index 57.8
Inequality Percentile 38%
Rank 60
Town Laredo, TX
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 58.3
Inequality Percentile 37%
Rank 61
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 58.5
Inequality Percentile 36%
Rank 62
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 58.6
Inequality Percentile 35%
Rank 63
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 58.6
Inequality Percentile 34%
Rank 64
Town Tucson, AZ
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 58.7
Inequality Percentile 33%
Rank 65
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 58.9
Inequality Percentile 32%
Rank 66
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 59.0
Inequality Percentile 31%
Rank 67
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 59.2
Inequality Percentile 30%
Rank 68
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 59.6
Inequality Percentile 29%
Rank 69
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 59.8
Inequality Percentile 28%
Rank 70
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 60.1
Inequality Percentile 27%
Rank 71
Niche Public School Grade C
Education Gini Index 60.4
Inequality Percentile 26%
Rank 72
Niche Public School Grade C
Education Gini Index 60.7
Inequality Percentile 24%
Rank 73
Town Fresno, CA
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 61.1
Inequality Percentile 23%
Rank 74
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 61.3
Inequality Percentile 22%
Rank 75
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 61.3
Inequality Percentile 21%
Rank 76
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 61.6
Inequality Percentile 20%
Rank 77
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 61.6
Inequality Percentile 19%
Rank 78
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 62.3
Inequality Percentile 18%
Rank 79
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 62.8
Inequality Percentile 17%
Rank 80
Niche Public School Grade C+
Education Gini Index 63.4
Inequality Percentile 16%
Rank 81
Niche Public School Grade A-
Education Gini Index 63.9
Inequality Percentile 15%
Rank 82
Niche Public School Grade C
Education Gini Index 63.9
Inequality Percentile 14%
Rank 83
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 64.6
Inequality Percentile 13%
Rank 84
Niche Public School Grade C
Education Gini Index 64.7
Inequality Percentile 12%
Rank 85
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 65.0
Inequality Percentile 11%
Rank 86
Town Tempe, AZ
Niche Public School Grade A-
Education Gini Index 65.2
Inequality Percentile 10%
Rank 87
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 65.7
Inequality Percentile 9%
Rank 88
Niche Public School Grade B+
Education Gini Index 66.2
Inequality Percentile 7%
Rank 89
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 66.8
Inequality Percentile 6%
Rank 90
Town Tulsa, OK
Niche Public School Grade B
Education Gini Index 69.1
Inequality Percentile 5%
Rank 91
Town Boston, MA
Niche Public School Grade C
Education Gini Index 69.3
Inequality Percentile 4%
Rank 92
Town Denver, CO
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 69.5
Inequality Percentile 3%
Rank 93
Niche Public School Grade A
Education Gini Index 69.6
Inequality Percentile 2%
Rank 94
Town Newark, NJ
Niche Public School Grade C-
Education Gini Index 69.7
Inequality Percentile 1%
Rank 95
Niche Public School Grade B-
Education Gini Index 73.8
Inequality Percentile 0%
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Author: Ryan Bell

Ryan is a former teacher turned Product Manager at Niche who focuses on helping make the best experience for people searching for schools and colleges.

Author: Nolly Gibbs

Nolly Gibbs is a Product Manager at Niche. When not at work, you can find Nolly knitting hats and perfecting her Shavasana.