Dr. Siegel-Hawley examines suburban school secession

Spotlight on SOE faculty research

Dr. Genevieve Siegel-Hawley
Dr. Genevieve Siegel-Hawley

The amount of knowledge being generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the study below, co-authored by Dr. Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, which looks at the political impulses behind suburban secession from the 2013 Memphis-Shelby County, Tennessee merger.


Genevieve Siegel-Hawley and her colleagues Sara Diem at the University of Missouri and Erika Frankenberg at the Pennsylvania State University capitalized on the recent disintegration of a large metropolitan school district in the South under the race-neutral auspices of local control.

Siegel-Hawley and colleagues used a case study approach to take a deeper dive into the secession of six whiter and wealthier suburban school districts from the larger metropolitan district. What they found was that white political leaders of the seceding school districts cited local control as the main reason for separation. On the other hand, leaders from the urban community “point to racial and economic differences between the city and suburban school systems as key drivers of secession.”

The researchers found evidence that the small, suburban districts’ desire for local control was in response to a feeling of low power within the large, metropolitan district – despite suburban overrepresentation in the governance of the metropolitan district. Seceding districts also cited benefits such as higher tax bases, strong economic development, and high quality schools.

The result was a reconceptualization of public education as the domain of municipality – rather than county – government, increased racial and economic segregation across district boundary lines, and less sharing of resources.

Link to full article: https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831217748880


Siegel-Hawley, G., Diem., S. & Frankenberg, E. (2018). The Disintegration of Memphis-Shelby County, Tennessee: School District Secession and Local Control in the 21st Century. American Educational Research Journal, 55(4), 651-692. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831217748880