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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 3. Lanfield Middle School: Tension and Division in the New Suburban School


← 44 | 45 →Chapter Three

When you leave the city and enter the community of Lanfield, you come onto a six-lane roadway. Large billboards advertise the state lottery. There are liquor stores, gun shops, strip malls, and union halls. There are dollar stores and churches. Spanish and English signs hang on the storefronts. People of all races wait for buses. This is a town that Orfield and Frankenberg (2012) describe as “inner ring transitioning” within a larger district; it is a suburban community experiencing rapid racial and economic change that is close to the city line (p. 39). Like so many suburban communities across the country, Lanfield has experienced a demographic shift in the last decade, and has become increasingly diverse in terms of race, class, and numbers of immigrant families.

Lanfield was established as a town in the mid-nineteenth century, and by the 1950s it was a railroad hub, strategically located on the city’s southern border. Housing developments started to spring up. It became a center for skilled tradespeople to work. Union halls dot the main roadway in Lanfield, representing workers who worked in the city’s factories, in skilled trades. Since that time, the community had remained working class, but now that the economy has shifted away from manufacturing and into service, Lanfield’s residents struggle with high unemployment and poverty in some cases.

← 45 | 46 →Over the last decade, the median household income in 2010 was far below the national average at $45,813,...

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