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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Suburban Schools Are Getting the Urban Experience

By Peter DeWitt — January 31, 2012 5 min read
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It no longer matters what kind of school system you belong to, it only matters that what is being done presently is more political than ever and it is not good for kids.

Schools have always been able to provide opportunities, better or worse, based on zip code. The wealthiest schools around the country can provide resources that other urban and rural schools may not be able to provide. Regardless of the type of school it is usually a microcosm of their whole community. Students walk in shaped by their parents’ ideas and school is a place where those ideas converge. Given the right circumstances, schools can be a great experience for students. Everything, even our present conditions is a teachable moment.

Every parent wants their child to attend a great school which is why some of them lie about where they live in an effort to make sure they can still attend a school in a community where they may no longer live. Suburban schools have had problems with parents using addresses where they do not live (parents, grandparents, etc.) so that their child does not get kicked out of the school and sent to the one in the community where they really live. That sort of dishonesty would not be happening if all schools were created equally.

There has been a real disconnection between urban, rural and suburban school districts. The “suburbs” are considered wealthier than urban schools and very often suburban schools are not considered very diverse. However, many who are in urban settings may say there isn’t a great deal of racial diversity in their setting either. It all depends on how one looks at what diversity means.

Some of that is changing. In these days of diminishing resources, there are still many schools that have healthy fund balances while others schools are heading toward bankruptcy, which is the plan for some politicians and governors because it will encourage schools to consolidate resources. Perhaps it will even force smaller schools to consolidate with other smaller school districts to become one. As more of this happens, those once wealthier schools are losing some of the comforts that they have gotten used to over the years.

Although many schools may not have racial diversity, they are beginning to see a great deal of economic diversity and the schools that once had many resources are seeing those resources cut during our present economic climate. Many would agree that schools need to change, but the present situation is forcing schools to change for the worse, not the better.
Public schools are in the midst of a perfect storm. During a time when one big initiative would be a lot for schools, many are the middle of three. Those three are adopting the Common Core State Standards, teacher and administrator evaluation and budget cuts. All three together could have devastating effects on the public school system and we seem to be surrounded by people who really don’t care.

Suburban Schools are Getting the Urban Experience
Over the past few years many suburban school districts have seen higher class sizes, teacher and administrative cuts, increase in poverty and homelessness, and a cut in school supplies (Tavernise. NY Times). They are seeing an increase in their transient population and children who enter school lacking the proper academic skills. Basically, suburban schools are beginning to see what urban schools have been seeing for decades.

Suburban schools have always had some students who came from tough backgrounds or were experiencing hardships but nothing to the magnitude that they are seeing presently. Mostly, suburban schools had a healthy commercial tax base; most of the parents made good salaries, and could afford to support the school system through higher taxes. All in all, life was good. As most suburban schools were flourishing, urban schools were struggling with buildings that were collapsing, overcrowded classrooms and high teacher turnover.

With the collapse of the economy over the past three or four years, suburban school families experienced job loss, foreclosures on their homes and are scraping together to make ends meet. All of these issues affect students who enter school. These social and emotional factors have an effect on a child’s academic performance and suburban schools are feeling the crunch. These same issues are the ones that urban schools have been talking about, albeit screaming about for a long time. Perhaps now, we can all work together.

A Positive in a Sea of Negatives
As schools fight for equality in funding and dealing with state budget elimination gaps, perhaps there are some positives that will come out of all of these negative experiences. Finally, suburban schools are getting a taste of what teachers, parents and administrators have been talking about in urban settings. It’s time to stop ignoring the problem and doing something about it.

This is not meant to point blame at any one group. My eleven years of teaching experience was in small city schools, while my administrative experience is in the suburban school setting. It’s been interesting to see the changes happening over the years, and not interesting in a good way.

If you ever take the time to get on Twitter and see some of the comments going back and forth between educators, consultants and educational historians, you will notice that they are at their breaking point, which if done right can lead to a better place. It no longer matters what kind of school system you belong to, it only matters that what is being done presently is more political than ever and it is not good for kids.

In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State Address that he is a lobbyist for children (Hu. N.Y.Times). Through his budget cuts schools are losing millions of dollars. As the political game is controlling the education students receive, it is time for suburban, urban and rural teachers, parents and administrators to show that they are the true lobbyists for children.

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Hu, Winnie (2012). Cuomo Vows New Push To Improve Education. N.Y. Times. January 4th, 2012. Tavernise, Sabrina (2011). Outside Cleveland, Snapshots of Poverty's Surge in the Suburbs. N.Y. Times. October 24th, 2011.

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