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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 2. Barrow County: An Example of the New Suburbia


← 20 | 21 →Chapter Two

There have been too few studies about the ways in which suburban schools are addressing demographic change. There are district level studies like the work of Orfield and Frankenberg (2012) which made an important contribution by interviewing school district leaders and finding out what their approaches were to a diversifying school population. Cooper (2009), Evans (2007), and Holme et al. (2014) have begun to look at the ways those district policies are playing out at the school level. Looking inside schools can tell us how teachers and students are negotiating cultural and power differences day to day and how the intersecting factors of curriculum and assessment, staffing, staff beliefs, leadership, as well as the broader context of racial and economic segregation impact the daily lives of suburban low-income students and students of color.

By taking a look at one suburban district, Barrow County,1 we can see how these issues have played out in the lives of real people. Before looking at the schools themselves, it will be helpful to understand the context for the larger suburban district, its history, and its current context. This chapter will provide an overview of Barrow County and will set the stage for a set of case studies that look deeply into middle schools in the suburban district.

There are many different kinds of suburban districts (Orfield & Frankenberg, 2012). Some are a string of small communities, and others are full suburban counties. Orfield...

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