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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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← 124 | 125 →Epilogue


Getting into public schools to do research is challenging. I was denied entry to Barrow County schools initially because their research office thought it would be too much for the schools. The schools already had so many observers coming into the school from inside and outside the district that they did not believe that the schools could accommodate any more. They also thought that my presence might be a disruption in the schools and distract teachers from teaching and students from learning. I understood what they said. Schools are indeed inundated by observers regularly, especially under strict accountability systems. Under new teacher evaluation systems, teachers need to be observed a certain amount of times every year, for instance.

Still, I pushed back, arguing that I would only go to schools that wanted me there and would provide non-evaluative feedback to them in return. Eventually the district agreed, and I was able to begin observations in middle schools across the district. I began at Springside Academy. Springside is a school that serves about 78% African American students and 72% of its students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. It is located near Oakwood Middle School. Its eighth graders ← 125 | 126 →do relatively well on standardized tests with about 75% achieving proficient or advanced in reading, but only 45% do as well on the math exam.

The principal of Springside, Kim Beale, an African American school dropout who was wooed back by her pediatrician who told her...

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