Research Articles

Jiaoyufication as an education-driven gentrification in urban China: A case study of Nanjing

  • SONG Weixuan , 1 ,
  • CAO Hui , 1, * ,
  • TU Tangqi 2 ,
  • SONG Zhengna 3 ,
  • CHEN Peiyang 4 ,
  • LIU Chunhui 5
  • 1. Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Key Laboratory of Watershed Geographic Sciences, CAS, Nanjing 210008, China
  • 2. Institutes of Science and Development, CAS, Beijing 100190, China
  • 3. School of Geographical Sciences, Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, Nanjing 210044, China
  • 4. School of Architecture, Soochow University, Suzhou 215123, Jiangsu, China
  • 5. College of Humanities & Social Development, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing 210095, China
*Cao Hui (1988-), PhD and Assistant Professor, E-mail:

Song Weixuan (1981-), PhD and Associate Professor, specialized in urban social geography. E-mail:

Received date: 2023-02-05

  Accepted date: 2023-03-30

  Online published: 2023-05-11

Supported by

National Natural Science Foundation of China(42171234)

National Natural Science Foundation of China(41901215)

National Natural Science Foundation of China(42271245)


As a type of urban gentrification oriented by high-quality educational resources, jiaoyufication is a socio-spatial process that refers to the middle-class group that attaches importance to education realizes the agglomeration in famous school districts by purchasing high-price school district houses. Based on the theoretical analysis of jiaoyufication conducted by Chinese and foreign scholars, this paper takes Nanjing as a case city, applies multi-source data like POIs (points of interest), real estate market data, mobile-phone user portraits and questionnaires, and develops a composite measurement of jiaoyufication to identify jiaoyufied school district, jiaoyufied group & its spatial characteristics, and discusses the causal mechanisms and effects of jiaoyufication. With the GIS-entropy-TOPSIS model, this paper evaluates the jiaoyufication level of public primary school districts in the main urban area of Nanjing. The result show that 218 primary school districts are categorized into four types, i.e., high jiaoyufied school district, mid-high jiaoyufied school district, medium jiaoyufied school district, and low jiaoyufied school district. The high jiaoyufied school districts are closely associated with the institutional system. In the high jiaoyufied school districts, many middle-class families have abundant social, economic, and cultural capital. They purchase and move to houses with lower living quality in school districts to pursue high-quality education for their children. The strict school district system, soaring school district housing prices, and intense educational competition continuously solidify the jiaoyufication levels of famous school districts and lock the opportunities for high-quality education in specific school-district spaces and classes or groups. The phenomenon of this socio-spatial reconstruction process, which results from the unequal distribution of high-quality educational resources, tends to aggravate the rich-poor gap and social segregation in cities. It is suggested that equalization of compulsory education services should be effectively carried forward as soon as possible.

Cite this article

SONG Weixuan , CAO Hui , TU Tangqi , SONG Zhengna , CHEN Peiyang , LIU Chunhui . Jiaoyufication as an education-driven gentrification in urban China: A case study of Nanjing[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2023 , 33(5) : 1095 -1112 . DOI: 10.1007/s11442-023-2121-y

1 Introduction

Since the 1960s, gentrification has undergone five waves of development and prevailed globally (Aalbers, 2019). From the global north to the global south, from urban areas to suburbs, and from cities to villages, gentrification has become a global urban strategy (Smith, 2002). Clark (2005) expands the definition of gentrification: “gentrification is a process involving a change in the population of land-users such that the new users are of a higher socio-economic status than the previous users, together with an associated change in the build environment through a reinvestment in fixed capital.” Due to the absence of a standardized definition and clear boundary, some scholars question whether the concept of gentrification has become “fuzzy” and “chaotic” (Davidson, 2011; Hwang, 2016). The “generalized gentrification” adheres to the “new urban colonialism” analytical framework and attempts to highly abstract the global gentrification phenomena. It assumes a geospatial transmission path from developed countries to developing countries with distinct national and urban hierarchical characteristics (Atkinson et al., 2004). It partially ignores the diversity and potential uniqueness of the gentrification phenomena across different countries and regions.
In fact, the global spread of gentrification does not follow the “core-periphery” diffusion paradigm (Merrifield, 2014). Gentrification in the global south or oriental countries does not mean the mimicry or variant of global Northern or Western countries. Rather, it signifies relatively different paths of reconstruction of urban social space embedded in various countries’ socioeconomic and historical-cultural contexts. Consequently, Lees et al. (2016) proposed the idea of “planetary gentrification”. They advocate abandoning Anglo-American cultural hegemony or ideology that indiscriminately simplifies and globally propagates gentrification (Ley et al., 2014), and studying the multi-form and ever-changing gentrification landscape from multiple perspectives or with comparative urbanism approaches in order to understand the complexity of global urbanization.
In this context, the research on urban gentrification in China progresses through several stages, beginning with the early introduction of concepts and theories of gentrification from the West, followed by the empirical testing and comparative studies of gentrification phenomena in China and their Western counterparts, and concluding with a critical reflection on the applicability of Western theoretical tools of gentrification to China. In this way, Chinese academia exploits phenomena and constructs theories of gentrification with local characteristics, joining the vibrant ongoing conversation on gentrification across cities around the world (Chen, 2021). Scholars examine different types of gentrification, i.e., classic gentrification, new-build gentrification, rural gentrification, tourism gentrification, commercial gentrification, environmental gentrification, and studentification. It is commonly agreed that, gentrification in Chinese cities differs from that in the West in terms of process, causal mechanism and effects (Huang et al., 2021).
In China, the gentrification phenomenon proves complex. New-build gentrification features a government-led “demolition-reconstruction” model (promoted in an all-around way) as well as drastic reconstruction of social space and typifies gentrification in Chinese cities (Song et al., 2010). Due to the imbalanced spatial allocation of educational resources and the compulsory education school district system, jiaoyufication oriented by urban high-quality educational resources boasts the most typical gentrification with Chinese characteristics and oriental cultural attributes. Wu et al. (2016) originally coined the term “jiaoyufication”, which refers to wealthy middle-class families in cities purchasing school district houses at high prices to provide their children with better educational opportunities, causing social and spatial problems. According to Wu et al., typical jiaoyufication in China is the phenomenon in which high-income families buy school district houses in old urban areas at exorbitant prices in order to send their children to top schools and then sell them to other middle-class families for profit after short period of holding. To put it another way, high-income families typically improve their housing conditions without incurring additional costs (Wu et al., 2016).
Since the turn of the 21st century, the cross study of education and gentrification has been a popular research field in European and American urban social geography (Butler et al., 2003; Hankins et al., 2007; Pearman, 2019; Green et al., 2020). The concern of European and American geographers regarding education is closely related to the neoliberal education marketization strategy (Taylor, 2009). Parents are permitted to choose schools independently in school districts for public schools. This allows more children from middle-class families to attend high-quality schools beyond their school catchment districts, but it denies children from vulnerable ethnic groups the right to attend nearby schools due to a lack of available educational resources (Butler et al., 2007; Peaman et al., 2017). Simultaneously, rising housing costs and business upgrading in school districts further squeeze and displace low-income groups (Reback, 2005; Makris et al., 2017), resulting in “school gentrification” (Posey et al., 2014).
As China develops its policy of “enrollment in nearby schools,” the school district system, which seeks educational equity, decouples educational rights from institutional privilege and binds educational rights to house property. However, the spatial imbalance in the allocation of domestic compulsory educational resources persists (Yuan et al., 2020). The effects of “educational capitalization” are bred by market-oriented reform of urban housing (Song et al., 2021), and the supply-demand contradiction of scarce high-quality educational resources continuously raises the housing prices of high quality school district. As a result, the school district system serves as an “institutional guarantee” for higher-income groups and upper classes to obtain high-quality educational resources. The school district becomes a gentrification space for the incursion, agglomeration, and periodic iteration of the superior urban classes (Liu et al., 2021), resulting in the replacement of local residents and exclusion of the inferior classes (Wu et al., 2016).
China’s jiaoyufication is distinctive in two ways. To begin, unlike in Europe and the United States, where “equal rights for home tenants and owners” govern the allocation of public educational resources, Chinese families have to purchase and live in houses with property rights in school districts before they can gain access to schools. Coupled with the growing urban middle class and the value of next-generation education in traditional oriental culture, as well as the absence of regulatory means such as “property tax,” the housing premium in China’s urban high-quality school districts is relatively higher, where high-income families with school-age children tend to congregate (Wu et al., 2016). Second, unlike other types of gentrification, jiaoyufication debunks the myth that “capital investment changes the material landscape” (as a requirement for defining gentrification) (Chen, 2021). Affluent middle-class families temporarily lower their living standards and live in old, shabby, and small school district houses in urban areas to obtain a higher-quality education. They consider these high-priced pigeonholes to be a “ticket” and a temporary residence rather than a home. As a result, they are uninterested in home decorating, making friends with neighbours, or integrate into communities (Wu et al., 2016).
As a type of educational-resources-oriented gentrification, jiaoyufication broadens international academia’s understanding of gentrification and contributes to a new form of residential segregation and a social-spatial reconstruction in Chinese cities. It not only expands the connotation of the global geographies of gentrification (Lees, 2012) but also provides visions for research on gentrification with local characteristics combined with Chinese context and distinctive systems. This paper takes Nanjing, China, as a case city, adopts mobile-device big data and resident questionnaires, conducts empirical research on issues including the identification of jiaoyufication space, the spatial pattern of jiaoyufication, the social attributes of jiaoyufiers, and the mechanism and effect of jiaoyufication, and offers suggestions for boosting the balanced allocation of educational resources and enhancing social equity & justice in cities.

2 Data and methodology

2.1 Study area

Nanjing is commonly viewed as a well-known educational city in China. This paper takes densely-populated urban areas with rich educational resources in Nanjing as a study area and divides it into two areas with the Yangtze River as the boundary, i.e., an urban area in the south and an urban area in the north. This paper uses 218 public primary schools (teaching areas) in main urban areas in 2020, or “primary school districts,” with the most prominent jiaoyufication phenomenon as spatial units. The study area covers an area of c. 822 km2, accounting for 12.5% of the city area (Figure 1). In 2020, the permanent population reached c. 6,045,000, accounting for 64.9% of the total permanent population in Nanjing.
Figure 1 Study area (Nanjing) and subjects

2.2 Data source

In this paper, the attribute data of school districts are categorized into physical spatial attribute data and social spatial attribute data. Physical spatial attribute data consist of the names of primary schools and the boundaries of school districts (provided by the Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Education,, spatial location information of primary schools and educational service institutions (from POI data provided by AMAP,, and attribute data of residential communities (provided by China Housing Price Market Platform, Social spatial attribute data consist of resident’s social and economic attributes data and residential migration data. Resident’s social and economic attributes data is derived from mobile-phone user portrait data in November 2020, with resolution of 152 m (provided by Getui big data platform, Residential migration data is obtained from more than 5000 questionnaires (4025 valid ones) randomly distributed to Nanjing urban residents, based on Wenjuanxing survey platform (

2.3 Methods

High-quality compulsory educational resources (primary schools) are necessary for jiaoyufication (Song et al., 2019). Second, the scarcity of high-quality educational resources continues to drive up the cost of school district housing (Gao et al., 2022). Third, due to the continuous migration of many high-income middle-class families, residents in school districts have a high proportion of middle-aged group and parents of primary school students, robust consumption capability, and admirable occupational level in terms of age, family, occupation, income, and other socioeconomic attributes. This paper selects seven variables, namely teaching quality, housing price, supporting educational facility, age structure, family structure, occupational type, and consumption level, in three types of attributes and characteristics (school, community, and resident), to construct a jiaoyufication identification index system in Nanjing (Table 1).
Table 1 The identification factors and description of jiaoyufication in Nanjing
& Type
Identification factor Variable description Note
Teaching quality The ranking of school education quality According to the number of students enrolled by Junior Middle Department of Nanjing Foreign Language School
Community attribute Housing price Housing price per unit area (yuan/m2) Average listing price calculated based on residential community
Age structure The proportion of the group aged 30-50 (%) Identity information provided by mobile phone users when registering APPs
Family structure The proportion of parents of primary school students (%) According to the type and activity of mobile APPs
Occupational type The proportion of white-collar group (%) According to mobile phone positioning and in combination with online and offline behavior characteristics
Consumption level The proportion of high consumption group (%) According to consumption habits, equivalent to monthly income of more than 20,000 yuan

Data source: China Housing Price Market Platform (, AMAP (, and Getui big data platform (

TOPSIS (Technique for Order Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solution), is a relatively common and objective intra-group comprehensive evaluation method. The GIS-entropy- TOPSIS model determines the weight of evaluation indexes via the entropy method, which uses the TOPSIS model to rank and evaluate the evaluated objects comprehensively. In specific calculations, original index attribute values are first standardized to construct a weighted matrix. Then, the entropy method calculates the index weight and clarifies the evaluated objects’ positive and negative ideal solutions. Finally, the relative closeness of each evaluated object to the positive ideal solution is calculated.
where $D_{i}^{+}$ and $D_{i}^{-}$ stand for weighted Euclidean distances between the evaluated object i and positive ideal and negative ideal solutions, respectively. Ci stands for the closeness (0 ≤ Ci ≤ 1) to the highest jiaoyufication level. The closer the value of Ci is to 1, the higher the jiaoyufication level the evaluated object i can approach. Jiaoyufication levels in various school districts in Nanjing can be ranked and evaluated in line with the value of Ci.

3 Results

3.1 Jiaoyufication degree and classification

As the results of the GIS-entropy-TOPSIS model (Figure 2) suggest, school districts with high-level jiaoyufication are mostly distributed in Gulou District and Xuanwu District, and the top six school districts are all located in Gulou District. The jiaoyufication level in main urban areas generally presents a “core-periphery” structure from urban centre to the periphery. In Jiangbei urban area and the urban area outside Jiangnan Ring Road, the jiaoyufication level remains relatively low, except for Pukou Experimental Primary School (ranking the 52nd), Jiangning Baijia Lake Primary School (ranking 32nd) and Qixia Jinling Experimental Primary School (ranking the 30th), whose closenesses are higher than 0.05.
Figure 2 The evaluation results and spatial distribution of the jiaoyufication level in school districts in the main urban areas of Nanjing
According to the evaluation results of the jiaoyufication level in Nanjing and the natural breakpoint characteristics of closeness index distribution, 218 school districts in main urban areas are divided into four types, i.e., high jiaoyufied school district (High JSD, ranking 1-10, closeness above 0.2), mid-high jiaoyufied school district (mid-high JSD, ranking 11-30, closeness 0.06-0.2), medium jiaoyufied school district (medium JSD, ranking 31-70, closeness 0.05-0.06), and low jiaoyufied school district (low JSD, ranking 71-218, closeness below 0.05). Then, this paper proceeds to describe the social and spatial characteristics of typical jiaoyufied school districts and compare the differences in school districts with various jiaoyufication levels.

3.2 Resident’s socioeconomic attributes in jiaoyufied school districts

Based on survey data from 4025 urban residents of Nanjing, this paper combines mobile-phone user portrait data from the Getui big data platform and compares school districts with different jiaoyufication levels, especially the structural differences between social groups in high and low jiaoyufied school districts in terms of age, occupation, family, residence, relocation, consumption, and income. The socioeconomic status of residents in typical jiaoyufied school districts is shown below (Table 2).
Table 2 The comparison of resident’s socioeconomic attributes in high & low jiaoyufied school districts (%)
Socioeconomic attribute High jiaoyufied school district Low jiaoyufied school district Socioeconomic attribute High jiaoyufied school district Low jiaoyufied school district
18-29 23.75 37.05 Consumption capability High level 35.64 28.18
30-39 24.33 22.70 Medium level 50.60 54.54
40-49 22.75 17.64 Low level 12.18 17.23
50-59 14.33 13.39 Annual household income
< 200,000 33.73 59.70
≥60 12.74 8.21 200,000-400,000 36.14 28.19
1-2 14.05 22.88 400,000-600,000 14.86 7.26
3 38.15 37.15 600,000-1,000,000 9.24 2.83
4 27.71 20.18 ≥ 1,000,000 6.02 2.02
5 14.86 13.63 Residential area (m2) < 50 6.83 11.37
≥6 5.22 6.16 50-59 10.84 5.70
Parents of a preschool
6.01 4.43 60-69 14.86 9.60
Parent of
primary school student
15.04 9.88 70-79 9.64 7.29
Parents of
middle school student
12.06 6.97 80-99 19.68 26.45
High school and below 9.24 22.60 100-119 19.28 18.48
Associate degree 13.65 24.19 ≥120 18.88 21.11
Undergraduate 47.79 38.95 Housing
Purchased commercial housing 65.06 52.58
Master 18.88 9.14 Renting 13.25 19.83
PhD and above 10.44 5.13 Public house 5.62 2.51
Occupational structure Employee in governmental department, enterprise and public institution 25.70 16.50 Original private house 2.41 3.68
Professional and technical
24.90 24.08 Demolition &
resettlement house
3.21 7.01
Staff 8.03 8.50 Self-purchased affordable housing 0.00 3.12
Private businessman 2.01 3.68 Self-purchased house with limited property rights 2.01 3.01
2.41 2.94 Reformed public house 3.61 2.41
Business service personnel 5.22 9.38 Self-built house 4.42 4.85
1.61 6.37 Housing age Before 1980 7.23 2.90
Agricultural laborer 0.00 0.64 1980-1989 15.66 5.95
Student 15.66 11.93 1990-1999 20.48 12.11
Freelance 9.24 8.22 2000-2009 36.55 37.00
Retired and unemployed 5.22 7.75 After 2010 20.08 42.03
(1) Middle-aged groups and school-age families in majority. In the high jiaoyufied school districts, 47.08% of the population is between the ages of 30 and 49, which is much higher than in other types of school districts. On the other hand, only 23.75% of the population is between the ages of 18 and 29, which is lower than in the lower jiaoyufied school districts (37.05%). In terms of age, the middle-aged group is the largest. In the high jiaoyufied school districts, the percentages of 1-2-person families and one-generation families are 14.05% and 15.66%, respectively, which are much lower than other types of families. On the other hand, the percentages of 3-5-person families (80.72%), 2-3-generation families (81.93%), and families with preschool, primary school, and middle school students are significantly higher than those of other types of jiaoyufied school districts.
(2) An agglomeration of highly educated and high-level occupational groups. Residents of the high jiaoyufied school districts have clear advantages when it comes to their level of education. In the high jiaoyufied school districts, 29.3% of the group has a master’s degree or higher, which is much higher than in the low jiaoyufied school districts, where 14.3% of the group has a master’s degree or higher. In the high jiaoyufied school districts, 9.24% of the group has a high school degree or less, which is the lowest. In terms of occupational structure, in the high jiaoyufied school districts, there are a lot of white-collar workers who do mental work and a lot of people who do superior jobs. In particular, the percentages of employees in government departments, businesses, and public institutions are 16.5% and 24.08%, which are much higher than those in low jiaoyufied school districts. On the other hand, the percentages of business service workers, industrial workers, and agricultural labourers are 6.83%, which is the lowest.
(3) Strong personal consumption capability and high family income. In terms of consumption level, the proportion of groups with high consumption capability is greater in high jiaoyufied school districts. In terms of annual family income, there is a positive correlation between jiaoyufication and group income. In high and low jiaoyufied school districts, for instance, the proportions of families with an annual income of “more than one million yuan” are 6.0% and 2.02%, while the proportions of families with an annual income of “less than 200,000 yuan” are 33.7% and 59.7%. In terms of family assets, the high jiaoyufied school districts have the highest proportion of families with two or more houses and two or more private cars among all jiaoyufied school districts: 40.16% and 17.27%, respectively.
(4) Relatively high proportion of public houses and poor living conditions. In terms of housing, 5.62% of families in the high jiaoyufied school districts live in a public house, which is more than in other types of school districts. This is a sign of “institutional-system housing.” In the high jiaoyufied school districts, 22.9% of families live in a house built before 1990, much higher than in other types of school districts, and 20.1% of families live in a house that was built after 2010, which is the lowest. In the high jiaoyufied school districts, 25.7% of families live in small and medium-sized houses (50-69 m2), which is the most of any jiaoyufied school district, and 18.88% of families live in large houses (120 m2), which is the least. The high jiaoyufied school districts have the highest average household size (3.56 people) and distribution of people from different generations (2.23). The group’s high income and social status stand in stark contrast to their small living space.
(5) Education is a major reason for relocation, with a strong willingness to move out in the future. In terms of reasons for relocation, in the high jiaoyufied school districts, 48.25% of residents clearly state that “children’s need to attend school” becomes the primary reason for them to move to their current residences. Only 20.93% of residents take into consideration “improving the living environment.” In the low jiaoyufied school districts, only 12.58% of residents move to their current residences to furnish their children with better education (Figure 3a). In the high jiaoyufied school districts, 24.1% of respondents admit that they “have plans to move out in the next five years.” Noticeably, the proportion of those who move out owing to “children’s need to attend school” drops to 24.92%, whilst the proportion of those who moved out to “improve the living environment” rises to 34.43% (Figure 3b).
Figure 3 The main reasons why families move to their current residences and future residences

3.3 Spatial characteristics of jiaoyufied school districts

Based on a preliminary understanding of the differences in social-group attributes of different types of jiaoyufied school districts, this paper examines and compares 10 primary schools (including Lasa Road Primary School, Lixue Primary School, and Langya Road Primary School, collectively called “La-Li-Lang”) and their corresponding school districts (Table 3), revealing the spatial characteristics of typical jiaoyufied school districts as follows:
Table 3 Basic information of high jiaoyufied school districts (schools)
No. The name of primary school Administrative district The area of school district
Housing price in school district
The ranking of housing price Campus or
1 Lixue Primary School Gulou 0.84 87,666 1 Headquarters
2 Lasa Road Primary School Gulou 0.70 74,713 4 Headquarters
3 Fangcaoyuan Primary School Gulou 0.25 71,958 5 Headquarters
4 Yincheng
Primary School
Gulou 1.32 64,450 7 Campus of Lasa Road Primary School
5 Langya Road
Primary School
Gulou 0.50 83,654 2 Headquarters
6 Jinling Huiwen
Primary School
Gulou 0.92 70,112 6 Campus of Lasa Road Primary School
7 East Beijing Road
Primary School
Xuanwu 0.69 63,869 8 Headquarters
8 Phoenix Garden City
Primary School
Gulou 0.39 50,673 19 Campus of Lixue Primary School
9 Primary School Attached to Nanjing Normal
Xuanwu 0.53 56,626 11 Headquarters
10 Hanjiang Road
Primary School
Gulou 0.56 50,673 20 Campus of Langya Road Primary School
(1) The most jiaoyufied school districts are relatively small with stable catchment zones and highly concentrated. Highly jiaoyufied school districts are mostly concentrated in Gulou and Xuanwu Districts, which are spatially adjacent. They have an average area of 0.61 km2, which is much smaller than the average area of school districts in major urban areas (3.73 km2). Nanjing has encouraged famous public schools to open branches in the form of directly-affiliated branches, school mergers, hosting educational institutions, and co-founding schools since the end of the twentieth century. Educational groups have been established at high-quality primary schools such as Lasa Road Primary School, Lixue Primary School, and Langya Road Primary School. However, most well-known schools have not adopted the form of school merger in collaboration with their educational groups’ branches. In other words, most famous schools’ school districts have never been significantly expanded or changed.
(2) Governmental agencies, other superior institutions and residences for their staff families agglomerate in the highly jiaoyufied school districts. Albeit small area of high jiaoyufied school districts, there are many provincial and municipal governmental functional organs (e.g. CPC Jiangsu Provincial Committee, Jiangsu Provincial Government, Jiangsu Provincial Department of Public Security, Jiangsu Provincial Department of Water Resources, Jiangsu Provincial Department of Science and Technology, Jiangsu Provincial Department of Ecological Environment, CPC Nanjing Municipal Committee, Nanjing Municipal Government, Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Education, Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Personnel, Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Urban Management and Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Housing and Construction Commission), research institutions and third-grade class-A hospitals (e.g. Southeast University, Hohai University, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing Foreign Language School, Nanjing Branch of Chinese Academy of Sciences and three directly-affiliated research institutes, Jiangsu Provincial People’s Hospital, Nanjing Municipal Brain Hospital, and Nanjing Municipal Thoracic Hospital), as well as a large number of family residential areas built in the late 20th century to meet residential needs of employees of the above-mentioned governmental agencies and institutions.
(3) The housing prices are extremely high in the highly jiaoyufied residential communities with poor living environment. The houses in the high jiaoyufied school districts are relatively old. 70.9% of residential communities were constructed before the year 2000, while only 5.7% were constructed after 2010. Most of the dwellings are traditional multi-story structures with unsatisfactory environment landscape and living conditions, inadequate software and hardware supporting facilities, such as modern property management and an underground parking lot. In stark contrast to this, housing costs are extremely high. In 2020, the average housing price in high jiaoyufied school districts is 65,872 yuan/m2 (35,877 yuan/m2 in urban areas). As shown in Figure 4, the highest housing costs are concentrated in the “La-Li-Lang” school districts. The coefficient of variation (CV) of housing prices is significantly lower in high jiaoyufied school districts than in other types of school districts.
Figure 4 The coefficients of variation of housing prices in different types of school districts
(4) Other high-quality educational resources and shadow educational institutions are highly concentrated in the jiaoyufied areas. In the high jiaoyufied school districts, there are high-quality public primary school resources. Most of them are located in the top five first-class public middle school districts in Nanjing, such as Nanjing No. 29 Middle School and Jinling Huiwen Middle School, or termed a “double school district.” In terms of kindergarten education, there are more than ten high-quality public kindergartens with good reputations, such as Nanjing Government Affiliated No. 1 Kindergarten, East Beijing Road Primary School Kindergarten, Nanjing Experimental Kindergarten, Nanjing Normal University Kindergarten and Jiangsu Provincial Department of Public Security Kindergarten. In addition to official educational resources, the high jiaoyufied school districts have abundant non-governmental educational resources. As shown in Figure 5, the density of “shadow educational institutions” is much higher than in other types of school districts (Liu Chunhui, 2021).
Figure 5 The density of non-governmental educational institutions in different types of school districts

4 Discussion

The difference in school educational quality engenders the “school district house boom” phenomenon. The threshold for access to high-quality educational resources keeps rising, which gives rich families more opportunities to attend famous schools and excludes low-income families (Song et al., 2019). Under the pressure of educational differentiation, the cutthroat competition catalyzes the agglomeration of middle-class families that attach importance to education in jiaoyufied school districts, and the joining forces of excellent students and middle-class families further improve the performance of school education. With multiple influence of institutional, economic, cultural, and other factors, the phenomenon of jiaoyufication emerges and intensifies continuously through the process of opportunity lock-in, market screening, and circulative accumulation. This phenomenon improves the spatial connection of high-quality education, high-price housing, and gentrification group in the school district, produces education-driven differentiation of residential space and the group lock-in effect of educational resources, causes an imbalance in the allocation of high-quality educational resources among urban groups and exacerbates or solidifies social stratification.

4.1 The intensification of the school district system and the lock-in of educational opportunity

In China, the notions of “enrollment in nearby schools” and “school district” rose to prominence during the early stages of reform and opening up when parents did not display strong awareness of “school selection.” In the 1990s, with the continuous differentiation of educational resources and the influx of the urban population, parents increasingly desired to provide their children with high-quality educational resources and drew on their family’s “social capital” to do so. Since 2010, major cities have strengthened their school district management systems, strictly implemented the policy of “enrollment in nearby schools” without an entrance exam, and invalidated the practice of “school selection” to prevent unfairness in “school selection.” This elevates the status of the school district and school district residence and restricts educational opportunities to the scope of school districts. However, the intensification of the school district system fails to achieve a balanced or equitable distribution of high-quality educational resources among various groups, and groups with higher social status continue to have greater access to scarce or high-quality educational resources.
Superior institutions and education are complementary and spatially coupled. Under the institutional system, institutions provided and rationed public services such as housing for staff and workers’ families and elementary education for children. After the reform and opening up, the unit (“Danwei”) compounds gradually disintegrated; however, large institution communities (such as government agencies) and “Danwei children” schools survived. This had a profound effect on the allocation of educational resources in urban areas. By dint of the high functional level and resource allocation power of the aforementioned institutions, key schools such as “La-Li-Lang” obtain preferential resource policies for an extended period of time, in terms of educational funds, outstanding teachers, and outstanding students, and rapidly become the most famous schools in Nanjing. The spatial coupling of “good schools” and “good institutions” increases the likelihood that children of employees at superior institutions will receive a quality education.
Secondly, the phenomenon of school selection still persists, and both the criterion for school selection and the qualification standard for the qualified group increase. The strict school district system mandates “zero school selection,” reducing the proportion of students choosing their schools. However, schools can independently determine a small number of enrollment quotas for the children of employees of affiliated institutions and higher authorities, as well as the children of qualified social groups such as front-line anti-pandemic workers, high-level talents, and excellent returned overseas talents. As the demand of prestigious schools exceeds supply, the criteria for selecting students become more stringent. For non-qualified, average families, the avenue for selecting schools has basically been closed. Families with greater power and social capital congregate around famous school districts, continually elevating the jiaoyufication level.
School district is the continuation of the division of the institution identity system and the territorialization of bigwigs in the planned economy era. In the school district system, social groups that receive better educational resources in the institutional system can still reap financial benefits. The school district system produces “space club convergence” of educational resources. Social resources make it increasingly difficult for average families to obtain “admission tickets.” Buying homes in school districts is the only way for more people to rely on family wealth to access educational opportunities.

4.2 Rising threshold for bid rent and widening capital gap

The school district system effectively mitigates the phenomenon of the score-, power-, and relationship-based school selection. In addition, it requires that schools allocate enrollment quotas based on registered residence (housing). In other words, educational qualifications are tied up with house property in school districts. Thus, the allocation of educational resources enters an era of neoliberal-market bid rent, and housing-based school selection becomes a significant means for high-income groups to compete for educational resources. Due to the rigidity of famous school district admission boundaries and the lack of flexibility in the supply of school district houses, the number of middle-class families in cities that place a premium on their children’s education is rapidly increasing. This exacerbates the supply-demand contradiction of high-quality educational resources and the effect of capitalization, exacerbates the market competition among parents for school district houses near famous schools, and provides robust institutional support and policy backing for the preservation and appreciation of school district houses.
Under such conditions, the prices of famous school district houses skyrocket in major Chinese cities. Taking Nanjing as an example, from 2008 to 2020, the average price of residential houses in main urban areas increased from 9029 yuan/m2 to 35,877 yuan/m2, while the average price of a high jiaoyufied school district increased from 11,792 yuan/m2 to 65,872 yuan/m2. A school district house at a sky-high price has become a luxury beyond economic affordability of most average families, evolved into an exclusive commodity for which wealthy middle-class families compete, and served as a threshold for space bid rent and a market screening mechanism for jiaoyufied groups with greater economic capital to agglomerate in school districts. The gradual incursion of high-income families and the overall replacement in urban demolition promote the reconstruction and purification of social space in jiaoyufied school districts, triggering residential differentiation characterized by school districts under “educational differentiation” (Song et al., 2021) and the “displacement” of residents in school districts (including “direct displacement” in physical space and “indirect displacement” at the psychological level) (Elliott-Cooper et al., 2020).
The frequent and consistent “metabolism” of the high-income middle-class group in jiaoyufied school districts not only maintains the proportion of school-age children and the socioeconomic status of school district residents but also promotes the prosperity of real estate market in school districts and the high premium of school district housing. As illustrated in Figure 6, the “price to rent ratio” of housing price (the ratio of housing price per unit area to the monthly rent) in high jiaoyufied school districts is higher than in other types of school districts and the gap is widening, with a significant positive correlation (differential pattern) between the level of jiaoyufication and the “price to rent ratio” of housing price. Wu et al. (2017) ingeniously propose the concept of the “jiaoyufied rent gap” to interpret the phenomenon of “capitalization of educational resources” in school districts by fusing Neil Smith’s “rent gap” with Pierre Bourdieu’s capital culture theory. According to Wu et al., cultural capital, as represented by high-quality educational resources, causes a “rent gap” and eventually converts to economic capital. “jiaoyufied rent gap” appears when parents are willing to pay high financial costs for the long-term benefits of education (Wu et al., 2017; Liu et al., 2021).
Figure 6 The change in average “price to rent ratio” of residences in different types of jiaoyufied school districts from 2008 to 2020
In fact, despite the fact that it costs a lot to buy a school district house, most buyers will choose to resell it after holding for a short time and obtain investment returns before the transformation of cultural capital when their children are employed. For example, from 2008 to 2020, the average annual growth rate of residences in the high jiaoyufied school districts reached 15.4%, while that in the low jiaoyufied school districts reached 11.5%. As school district houses have a high threshold for economic capital, the wealthy middle class is more likely to become beneficiaries, which not only aggravates the differences in family capital and the differentiation in living space among social groups, but also makes school district houseowners the firm defenders of “jiaoyufied space club”.

4.3 The intensification of educational competition and the solidification of the superior class stratum

Housing is a key identifier for defining a family’s current status, and education is a pass for intergenerational transmission or mobility. In comparison to the housing and employment markets, the education market has emerged as an important factor in determining the character, level, and stability of gentrification of the urban middle class (Butler et al., 2003). The capitalization of educational resources through the school district system, as well as the concern about educational differentiation in oriental educational culture, have continually heightened the “anxiety” of the urban middle class. Because the market screening mechanism embraces high prices, opportunities for high-quality compulsory education eventually come to middle-class families who pay higher prices and value education more. Furthermore, in order to address the uncertainty of educational policies and internal competition among schools, a trend of cutthroat competition in education emerges, with high-price school district houses and intensive educational support facilities, as well as shadow educational institutions surrounding schools.
Jiaoyufied group relies on endogenous educational resources represented by their family structure and cultural capital to obtain external educational resources such as official key schools and market-oriented supplementary educational institutions via economic and social resources (Liu et al., 2008), and cultivates or supports children’s learning interests and habits through parental participation and behavior. This has a more consistent and long-term positive impact on children’s learning (Li et al., 2016). Jiaoyufied group can more effectively transform their economic and cultural advantages into their children’s academic achievements through the mutual promotion and dual influence of formal school education and informal family education, thus strengthening the intergenerational inheritance of the middle class.
As a result, the middle class in jiaoyufication serves as both a “consumer” on the demand side and a “producer” on the supply side. The jiaoyufied group relocates to top school districts, which is regarded as a rational strategy for the middle class to pursue social-status continuity and cultural (re)production (Wu et al., 2018). With bilateral selection of schools and middle-class parents, as well as the continuous and significant circulative accumulation effect, jiaoyufied group, educational opportunity of famous schools and high-price houses, form an increasingly close combination of superior resources in school districts. While intensifying the differentiation and segregation of living space, jiaoyufication gives the idea of reproduction to the class that scrambles for “exceeds space” or educational opportunities in high-quality school districts (Wu et al., 2018). As a result, more opportunities for upward mobility between or within generations are locked in the superior classes or groups.

5 Conclusions

Focusing on jiaoyufication oriented by urban high-quality educational resources, and based on theoretical literature review and case analysis, this paper uses multi-source data (e.g. housing market, mobile devices and questionnaires), and identifies jiaoyufied space of school districts in the main urban areas in Nanjing. In addition, the jiaoyufied group and its spatial characteristics, jiaoyufication reinforcement mechanism and solidification effect are further explored and discussed. The main conclusions are as follows:
(1) Based on the identification index system of jiaoyufication constructed using school, neighbourhood, and resident attributes, this paper reveals that jiaoyufication exhibits a notable trend of polarization. A few high jiaoyufied school districts are spatially adjacent and distributed in Gulou District and Xuanwu District, whereas the vast majority of medium and low jiaoyufied school districts are distributed in urban periphery of Nanjing.
(2) In the high jiaoyufied school districts, there are many government agencies, research institutions, as well as a high proportion of middle-aged parents with abundant economic, social, and cultural capital. In order to provide their children with a better education, these parents voluntarily purchase and move into high-priced, mediocre-quality homes in school districts.
(3) The fundamental cause of jiaoyufication is the imbalanced allocation of educational resources across space. Under the pressure of strict school district policy and educational differentiation, the middle class that places a high value on children’s education, and the circulative market-oriented bid rent for rare school district houses, the intense panic-driven competition for informal education resources strengthen the jiaoyufication level of famous school districts continuously.
(4) In a sense, the jiaoyufied group sacrifices economic capital in exchange for cultural capital, intergenerational transmission, or class mobility. However, the group also realizes substantial economic capital gains by selling school district houses after holding them for a brief period of time. This widens the gap between the rich and the poor, reinforces class advantage, obstructs the rising channel of education for low-income families, and creates new segregation in urban social space and the phenomenon of unequal educational opportunity.
Generally, the quality of education improves due to “Nearby Enrollment” policy and “provision of equitable, quality education”. However, the phenomenon of prestigious schools continues to exist, and the public remains obsessed with limited educational resources. The strict policy of the school district significantly reduces the chaos of “school selection” in the past. However, certain social groups possessed a strong capacity for resource allocation within the institutional system, and their children had greater opportunities to receive a high-quality education within the school district system. Jiaoyufication, characterized by the distinctive Chinese or oriental educational culture, emerges in the allocation of educational resources as a result of neoliberal market reform. Jiaoyufication engenders an imbalanced distribution of high-quality education and social-mobility opportunities in social space, leading to a severe problem of educational inequality. Although numerous policies and measures concerning school district reform have significantly improved the overall quality of urban education, they have little effect on alleviating the jiaoyufication of famous schools. The fundamental solution might be continuously reducing and eventually equalizing the educational quality advantage of famous schools so that urban families no longer choose schools enthusiastically, thereby disrupting the solidified path for the distribution of high-quality educational resources and social class mobility.
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