Equity & Diversity Data

The ‘Dramatic’ Demographic Shifts Reshaping Suburban Schools: 7 Key Data Points to Know

By Xinchun Chen, Yukiko Furuya, Alex Harwin & Benjamin Herold — March 17, 2021 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“These are dramatic shifts.”

For Penn State University education professor Erica Frankenberg, that’s the big takeaway from a new analysis of demographic changes in America’s suburban public schools conducted by the EdWeek Research Center.

The analysis updates a study at the heart of groundbreaking 2012 book called The Resegregation of Suburban Schools , co-edited by Frankenberg and UCLA professor Gary Orfield.

Back then, the researchers found that between 1999 and 2006, the share of white students attending public schools in the suburbs of the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas had declined by almost 9 percentage points, indicating significant racial change. Still, Frankenberg and Orfield determined, white children constituted a solid majority—almost 60 percent—of suburban public-school students in those areas during the 2006-07 school year.

To better understand how things changed in the years that followed, the EdWeek Research Center worked with Frankenberg to examine enrollment trends in roughly 30,000 public schools across America’s 25 largest metropolitan areas between 2006-07 and 2017-18.

During that period, some suburban schools closed, opened, or changed their attendance zones. Students in the closed schools were disproportionately white, and students in the new schools were disproportionately non-white. The boundaries of some metropolitan statistical areas also were redrawn, and the National Center for Education Statistics adjusted some of its racial/ethnic classifications (adding “two or more races” and “Pacific Islander,” for example). As a result of such changes, Education Week’s analysis represents a conservative estimate that likely underplays the population shifts in the areas studied.

Still, the results show that the diversification of America’s suburban public schools has accelerated dramatically. Following are seven key data points to know:

48 percent

White students are no longer a majority of suburban public school students, accounting for 48 percent of total enrollment in the suburbs of the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas. The number of white students attending these schools fell from nearly 7 million in 2006-07 to 5.5 million in 2017-18, a drop of nearly 20 percent.

1.4 million

During the same period, the number Hispanic, Asian, Pacific-Islander, and multi-racial students in suburban public schools rose by 1.4 million.

27 percent

Between 2006-07 and 2017-18, the share of Hispanic students in the suburbs of America’s largest metros rose 7 percentage points, to just over 27 percent. The number of Hispanic students attending these suburban public schools rose from roughly 2.3 million to about 3.1 million.

870,000

During the same period, the number of Asian suburban public-school students rose by nearly 17 percent, to roughly 870,000.

4 percent

As of the 2017-18 school year, newly counted students of two or more races accounted for 4 percent of suburban public school enrollment. That new multi-racial category may partially explain why the number of Black students in suburban public schools fell from about 1.55 million in 2006-07 to about 1.45 million in 2017-18. White enrollment was also likely impacted.

+10 percentage points

In 2017-18, about 40 percent of public school students in the suburbs of the nation’s 25 largest metros were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch (a rough indicator of poverty.) That was up from about 30 percent in 2006-07.

-10 percentage points

In 2017-18, fewer than 6 percent of suburban students attended public schools that were at least 90 percent white. That figure was down more than 10 percentage points from 2006-07.

Across the country, the changes are fueling policy shifts and political tensions in suburban communities such as Chandler, Ariz., where the public schools were 49.9 percent white at the start of this school year.

“Very few suburban school systems are oases of overwhelming whiteness now,” Frankenberg said. “All districts need to have plans in place for educating and welcoming diverse students.”

Benjamin Herold was a 2019-20 Spencer Fellow in Education Journalism at Columbia University. His book on suburban public schools and the American Dream will be published by Penguin Press in 2022.

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
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
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

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 What the Law Says About Parents' Rights Over Schooling
The rallying cry of “parental freedom” perpetuated racial segregation, writes a legal scholar. So why would we let it dictate curriculum?
Joshua Weishart
5 min read
People hold signs and chant during a meeting of the North Allegheny School District school board regarding the district's mask policy, at at North Allegheny Senior High School in McCandless, Pa., on Aug. 25, 2021. A growing number of school board members across the U.S. are resigning or questioning their willingness to serve as meetings have devolved into shouting contests over contentious issues including masks in schools.
People at a school board meeting in late August protest the mask policy set by the North Allegheny school district in Western Pennsylvania.
Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Equity & Diversity Language Barriers With Schools: Immigrant Parents Tell Tales of Exclusion
Non-English-speaking parents say they've long been excluded from parts of their children’s education, and the pandemic has made it worse.
5 min read
Student teacher Olivia Vazquez, standing, left, speaks with a student at the Eliza B. Kirkbride School in Philadelphia in October. Vazquez is finishing up her last semester at Swarthmore College and hoping to help make sure immigrant students arriving in Philadelphia have a more supportive experience in school than she did growing up.
Student teacher Olivia Vazquez, standing, left, speaks with a student at the Eliza B. Kirkbride School in Philadelphia in October. Vazquez is finishing up her last semester at Swarthmore College and hoping to help make sure immigrant students arriving in Philadelphia have a more supportive experience in school than she did growing up.
Matt Rourke/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion No, Love Won’t Fix Institutional Racism in Education
Racially just books are under attack in schools. Defending an anti-racist curriculum demands a deeper understanding of how power operates.
Altheria Caldera
4 min read
Photo of separated black and white chess pieces
Radachynskyi/iStock/Getty Images Plus<br/>
Equity & Diversity Spotlight Spotlight on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
This Spotlight will empower you to assess where the work still needs to be done to ensure your students and educators are represented and included.