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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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← XVIII | XIX →Acknowledgments


This book, although not lengthy, has been a long time in the making. It incorporates my reflections on my suburban upbringing as well as an examination of the current state of the suburbs that I revisited with the encouragement of my family and friends. The issue of demographic change in our suburbs requires serious attention. The suburbs will need to reinvent themselves if they are going to respond to the changing population. Ta-Nehisi Coates reminded us recently that the suburbs were borne out of racial inequity, and there will be real work to do to reverse historical inequities if there is to be any hope of social justice. I truly hope that suburban districts begin to reimagine themselves and that this work helps them in that process.

I also would like to thank the teachers, students, and principals who agreed to participate in my research. They were under no obligation to do so and were working in incredibly difficult and politically charged contexts. To invite me in as a researcher took courage and showed a desire to reflect on situations that are challenging to navigate. While I discuss ways that they could be doing better in the book, I also think that they are hardworking and well-intentioned. When I shared my ← XIX | XX →findings, participants were responsive and reflective, even if the results were difficult to hear.

Finally, I would like to thank the scholars who helped frame my thinking about suburbanization and schools. They are...

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