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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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Chapter 1. Changing Demographics: The New Reality for Suburban Schools


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For more than a half a century, a majority of Americans have lived and still live in the suburbs (Marino, 2014). As a result, most children go to school in suburban communities, so understanding them is critical. Suburbs are not just a geographic place on the map outside the central city, but a concept, an expression of how Americans believe one should live. They offer proximity to the city but are physically removed from the dirt, noise, and chaos that the city brings. To understand the creation of the suburbs, one must understand that they have been

The quintessential physical achievement of the United States; it is perhaps more representative of American culture than big cars, tall buildings, or American football... it is a manifestation of such fundamental characteristics as conspicuous consumption, reliance upon the private automobile, upward mobility, the separation of the family into nuclear units, widening division between work and leisure, and a tendency toward racial and economic exclusiveness. (Jackson, 1985, p. 4)

Kenneth Jackson (1985), who described the development of the suburb in Crabgrass Frontier, traced the origins of the suburb as we know it today to nineteenth-century England and the United States. Suburbanization, ← 1 | 2 →the “systematic growth of fringe areas at a pace more rapid than that of the core cities,” enabled people to live farther from work and establish new communities, away from cities (p. 13). Brooklyn Heights, one of the first suburbs, was...

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