Inequality Governance: Rise of School Districts and Its Consequences

Banner_CASER Research Workshop Series_Fangsheng Zhu


This presentation examines inequality governance in contemporary China through the case of school districts. School districts became the central device in public school admissions in China, despite the absence of fiscal or administrative foundations. Using policy documents and media reports, I argue that school districts rose as a result of a negative consensus on school choice, a governance framework to solve injustices with formal procedures, and a set of newly available big data infrastructure. The rise of school districts reshaped education inequality and politics. Using 90 parent interviews in the Beijing metropolitan area, I find that families developed new strategies to adapt to space-based school admissions. Using longitudinal fieldwork and media data, I find that collective actions surged in response to formalized procedures. Altogether, these findings demonstrate the complex causes and unintended consequences of inequality governance.


Fangsheng Zhu is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Duke Kunshan University. He studies education, particularly the interactions among families, education providers, and governments. His research topics include parenting, school admissions, EdTech, and education policies. Fangsheng has a bachelor’s degree from Zhejiang University, a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

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