A student’s address should not determine the quality of his or her education. But often it does.

As an undergraduate at Rhodes College in Memphis, I have become acutely aware of the unfortunate relationship between the economic situation of a community and the academic achievement of its schools. Only 20 minutes of driving time separates the highest and lowest rated public elementary schools in the city. Within that 20 minute drive, there is also a $130, 000 difference in average listed home retail prices.

Jonathan Rothwell, a senior research analyst in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, found similarly disturbing figures from around the country in the Housing Costs, Zoning, and Access to High-Scoring Schools study.

Some of the more striking findings include the following:

  • Housing costs an average of nearly $11,000 more per year near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school.
  • Students from middle- and high-income families attend better-performing schools than students from low-income families.
  • Areas with less restrictive zoning laws have smaller achievement gaps.

Middle Tennessee ranked 27 in the list of the 100 largest metro areas for test SCORE discrepancies linked to housing. On average in Nashville, students from low-income families attend schools with 26 percent lower test SCOREs than students from middle- or high-income families.

It seems that despite the best efforts of many groups, many of our school systems are perpetuating themselves. Often students from low-income families are not being given the same opportunity to receive a quality education that can lead to postsecondary enrollment or success in the workforce.

Fortunately, education stakeholders and policy makers around the state have heard these concerns and are taking action in a variety of ways. In 2010, Tennessee adopted the Common Core State Standards, ensuring that all students will be held to higher standards goal of graduating every student prepared for college and career. Struggling systems across the state have opened their arms to external efforts such as the Achievement School District, which plans to turn the lowest performing 5 percent of schools into the top 25 percent of schools across the state within five years. Metro Nashville Public Schools have also joined the fight and launched the transition to a choice-friendly enrollment plan in which students are able to attend schools across zoning lines in order to partake in the optimum academic environment.

With these and other similar efforts in place, I am confident that I will soon be able to drive 20 minutes or 200 miles without a change in test SCOREs or the quality of education.