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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

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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 6. Conclusion: Where Do We Go from Here? Lessons from and for the New Suburban Schools

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← 112 | 113 →Chapter Six

The history of suburbanization casts a long shadow in Barrow County schools. It is a district filled with communities that were constructed as “racialized spaces,” spaces where racial hierarchy and differential access to power were solidified by housing, transportation, schooling, and employment policies over many decades (Iglesias, 2000). Federal policies actively contributed to and solidified the creation of inequality in the suburbs. As Ta-Nehisi Coates (2014) wrote:

White flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors. For should any non-racist white families decide that integration might not be so bad as a matter of principle or practicality, they still had to contend with the hard facts of American housing policy: When the mid-20th-century white homeowner claimed that the presence of a black family decreased his property value, he was not merely engaging in racist dogma—he was accurately observing the impact of federal policy on market prices. Redlining destroyed the possibility of investment wherever black people lived. (p. 66)

The combination of racist real estate practices that shaped the suburbs also coated the environment in racial fear. Integration meant economic decline. Keeping communities white was about self-preservation, ← 113 | 114 →and in particular preserving a space that the generation returning from World War II did not dream was possible. Their gains were at the expense of black families, however. While white families accumulated wealth, blacks lost wealth and generations to...

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