School, community, and spatial equity: An empirical investigation of access to elementary schools in West Virginia

Emily Talen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


To date, only a handful of studies have empirically investigated the relationship between school locations and their constituencies - i.e., the accessibility of schools. This article makes a contribution by presenting an in-depth case study of school accessibility in three countries in West Virginia. The study utilizes an extensive dataset of distances between students and eighty-four elementary school locations. The study examines whether or not the distribution of travel cost between resident locations (blocks) and schools is equitable on the basis of the density of resident populations and the socioeconomic status (SES) of resident populations. The article also carries the analysis one step further, investigating the effect of access on student achievement. The findings for the first hypothesis indicated that spatial inequities in access to school were substantial and varied by county and school zone. In terms of the relationship between SES and access to schools, results were inconclusive and could be described in the familiar "unpatterned inequality" paradigm supported by a great deal of accessibility research. The analysis involving student achievement showed that distance to school had a significant and inversely related effect on third-grade test scores. The article concludes by arguing that these exploratory initial findings should be expanded upon in future geography-based studies. First, the finding that significant clusters of poor accessibility indeed exist should be investigated vis-à-vis the implicit assumption in school consolidation planning that school catchment areas conform to some kind of higher rational principle. Second, the findings point to a need for more research regarding the import of socioeconomic status in school accessibility. Finally, the results indicate that access is negatively associated with achievement, but that relationship needs to be scrutinized in greater detail.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-486
Number of pages22
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2001


  • Accessibility
  • Community
  • Rural
  • Schools

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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