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The New Reality for Suburban Schools

How Suburban Schools Are Struggling with Low-Income Students and Students of Color in Their Schools


Jessica T. Shiller

Since the year 2000, the population of people of color and of poor families in the suburbs has been rapidly increasing, making these areas far more diverse than they were a generation ago. Along with the increase in diversity has come re-segregation, leaving some schools with very high concentrations of low-income students and students of color, while others remain mostly white. These re-segregated schools are often not well-prepared to deal with the issues their students face. In addition, they are often subject to strict accountability demands that focus on improving test scores. These conditions create a unique situation for schools serving high populations of students of color and low-income students, one that is strikingly similar to urban schools. The New Reality for Suburban Schools presents three case studies of inner-ring suburban middle schools coping with these issues. Although the principals and teachers were aware that students faced poverty and lived in increasingly racially and ethnically diverse communities, a variety of factors prevented them from using practices that would have addressed the students’ needs. As a result, these suburban schools did not provide much better educational opportunities to low-income students and students of color than their urban counterparts. Readers of this volume can learn how school leaders and teachers try to negotiate educational mandates while serving their students. The book concludes with suggestions for improving the ways these schools serve their students.
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Preface. Why a Book About Suburban Schools?

← VI | VII →Preface


I graduated from a suburban New Jersey high school in 1989. My graduation class of 350 students was overwhelmingly white. When I went back in 2002 to attend my younger sister’s graduation, the graduating class looked different. There were still white students, but the arena where the ceremony was held was filled with people of color. As the names were read and the graduates crossed the stage, I was struck by how the student body had changed. There were so many Latino/Latina, South Asian, and African American students that whites were no longer the majority. My parents said that the town had changed as well.

I had not lived in the suburbs since I finished high school, so I was surprised to see diversity there. Like many of my peers, I was disenchanted with suburban homogeneity, predictability, and quiet. I wanted to be around diversity and activity and to be able to walk where I wanted to go. In the fall of 1989, I left for college in upstate New York, and by 1993 I was living in New York City. I never imagined going back. I also never imagined that the suburbs would change as dramatically as they had.

My parents and grandparents had the opposite experience. Growing up and living in Newark, New Jersey, for much of their lives, their stories could have been set in a Philip Roth novel. They left the city as soon as it started to diversify racially. Like so...

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