Equity & Diversity

Suburban Schools Have Changed Drastically. Our Understanding of Them Has Not

By Corey Mitchell — January 26, 2021 2 min read
Image of a suburb.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

What comes to mind when you picture an urban school district? How about a suburban district?

If those images are completely different, you may need to re-evaluate your answer.

Suburban school districts were once mostly white and affluent spaces outside of city boundaries, but those spaces have undergone significant demographic shifts—and yet our public understanding of them has not kept up, argues a leading scholar on race in education.
Differences between urban and suburban districts are less distinct than people think, John Diamond, a sociologist of education and the Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and two colleagues explain in their recently released study, Reframing Suburbs: Race, Place and Opportunity in Suburban Educational Spaces.
Schools in the suburbs are not havens from issues, such as poverty and educational inequity, that city schools have long grappled with. Diamond said that makes them ideal locations to study key issues that communities must confront: economic inequality, white supremacy and why school segregation still persists nearly 70 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.

While much of the focus on school segregation focuses on divides across district borders, the in-district boundaries also play a major role in the schools and opportunities that students have access to, the researchers argue. Public resistance to local school integration plans has emerged as an issue in suburban districts across the country.

“Racial inequality is built into the bedrock of suburbia, and this understanding of suburban schooling necessitates understanding how place and race intersect,” the authors wrote in their analysis.

Overall, the focus on the urban-suburban divide continues to shape research funding, how school leadership is studied and what undergraduate and graduate courses aspiring teachers and school administrators, Diamond said. In those contexts, ‘urban schools’ is often shorthand for districts that are majority non-white, have a significant number of families living in poverty and have sizable immigrant and English-language learner populations.

“There’s a fascination with city schools,” Diamond said in an interview with Education Week. “The way that people study leadership and education is often focused on urban leadership and urban schools. There may be courses on rural education, because that tends to be a category that people pay attention to, but suburban often gets overlooked.”

That is despite the fact that the majority of the nation’s K-12 public school students attend suburban schools.

While a growing body of research has begun to document the demographic shift and inequities in suburban education, more work remains.
To better understand the shifts in suburban education, Diamond and his colleagues also call for more researchers to push beyond the binary Black-white view of race to examine how Latino, Asian and indigenous students and their families experience education in racially diverse suburbs and how educators have adapted to change.

Teachers and principals are working in districts “that don’t look like they did 15 years ago and they’re grappling with issues that they may not have thought they were have to going to understand,” Diamond told Education Week. “The demographic shifts that people experience make them anxious and hungry to find out more information about how to respond to those changes.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
Science K-12 Essentials Forum How To Teach STEM Problem Solving Skills to All K-12 Students
Join experts for a look at how experts are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Opinion The ‘Great Replacement Theory’ Is a Lie. It's Also a Threat to Schools
The conspiracy espoused by the Buffalo shooting suspect is of particular concern for schools, writes Jonathan E. Collins.
Jonathan E. Collins
3 min read
Signs, balloons, and police tape are wrapped around a pole across from Tops Friendly Market, the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that was the site of a racist shooting rampage.
Signs, balloons, and police tape are wrapped around a pole across from Tops Friendly Market, the Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store that was the site of a racist shooting rampage on May 14.
Joshua Bessex/AP
Equity & Diversity A School Openly Discusses Race in a State That Bans It
At Millwood High School, discussions on race are everywhere, and students say the lessons are essential.
7 min read
Students pass through the halls in between classes at Millwood High School on April 20, 2022 in Oklahoma City.
Students change classes at Millwood High School this spring in Oklahoma City.
Brett Deering for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion The Buffalo Massacre Is Exactly Why We Need to Talk About Racism With White Students
Too many white people are receiving their information about race from racist media rather than their schools, writes David Nurenberg.
David Nurenberg
4 min read
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
On May 15, people march to the scene of a mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
Equity & Diversity Native American Children Endured Brutal Treatment in U.S. Boarding Schools, Federal Report Shows
Deaths, physical and psychological punishments, and manual labor occurred at the more than 400 federal boarding schools.
5 min read
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School on Dec. 3, 2021, in Tahlequah, Okla. The Interior Department is on the verge of releasing a report on its investigation into the federal government's past oversight of Native American boarding schools. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Wednesday, March 16, 2022, the report will come out next month.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks at the Cherokee Immersion School in December, in Tahlequah, Okla. Her agency's report documents harmful conditions, deaths, and physical punishment for Native American students forced to attend federal boarding schools.
Michael Woods/AP