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.

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

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
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
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

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 Are Our Schools Any Closer to Equity?
Schools are trying to focus on equity, but a slew of new legislation is preventing that focus from becoming a reality.
Sean Slade & Alyssa Gallagher
4 min read
E20D8BC6 ED5F 43B7 817C 5FA00DCA5904
Shutterstock
Equity & Diversity Spotlight Spotlight on Critical Race Theory
In this Spotlight, learn what critical race theory is, what it isn't, and how it's a practice, not a curriculum.
Illustrations.
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion I Am an Indian American Man. I Had Anti-Racist Work to Do
When adults reflect on who they are and where they come from, their awareness leads to better learning outcomes for their students.
Anil Hurkadli
5 min read
Abstract drawing of the profile of a head, clouds of thoughts and radiance from the eyes.
Elena Medvedeva/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Equity & Diversity American Indian Mascots Will Soon Be Banned in Colorado Public Schools
Colorado would become the fifth state to get rid of derogatory mascots.
Saja Hindi, The Denver Post
2 min read
Students walk into Loveland High School, past a sign at the entrance bearing the image of the school mascot, a Native American, in Loveland, Colo. on Sept. 11, 2014.
Students walk into Loveland High School, past a sign at the entrance bearing the image of the school mascot, a Native American, in Loveland, Colo.
Brennan Linsley/AP