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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 5. Oakwood Middle School: Teachers Who Can Connect but Don’t Expect Enough


← 92 | 93 →Chapter Five

At first glance, Oakwood seems like many other suburban communities. It is mostly residential and quiet. There are detached homes with lawns as well as several churches and schools. Its one distinctive feature is its train stop. Few suburban communities in Barrow County have reliable public transportation into the city for work, but Oakwood is one of them. This unique feature is what originally attracted people to Oakwood.

Another distinctive feature of Oakwood is that it is solidly African American (84.7%). Only 8.7% are white, 3.7% Latino/Latina, and 2.4% Asian. Oakwood has been an African American enclave for some time. During the 1960s, black middle-class families began moving to Oakwood and its surrounding communities in large numbers because it was one of the few communities that did not have a restrictive covenant barring African Americans. Real-estate agents played a role in luring black families to the area, which was close to the city and had good public transportation, so that one could commute to work without owning a car. Soon black churches moved from the city into the area as well, solidifying the community as an African American center (Pietila, 2010).

← 93 | 94 →Oakwood is relatively large. According to census data, approximately 29,000 residents live in Oakwood. While not a wealthy community, Oakwood is much more middle class than suburban communities such as Lanfield. Most people work in government agencies, health care, and other offices. It has a $57,...

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