The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), a nonprofit organization that researches how to make public education more effective for America’s disadvantaged students, has released a report titled “Suburban Schools: The Unrecognized Frontier in Public Education” that explores how to improve schools in the suburbs.
The report, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, argues that so much attention and investment has been focused on improving schools in big cities that schools in central cities limits (inner-ring suburbs) have been neglected. While acknowledging the seriousness of urban city problems, the inner-ring schools often wrestle with the same changes and difficulties that urban schools do.
Public school populations are becoming increasingly impoverished, especially in the suburbs. In 2013, students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch made up a majority of all public school students in the United States. Interestingly, populations living below the federal poverty line grew twice as fast between 1970 and 2010 in suburbs as in cities, almost three times as fast between 2000 and 2012.
Moreover, increasing poverty is not the only issue battering suburban school systems. There has been a tremendous growth in English Language Learners (ELL). The biggest growth in ELL has taken place in rural and suburban school systems, and this population is expected to double by 2025.
The report details how students in the suburbs face unique challenges. Many antipoverty support services are concentrated in inner cities, and those organizations working in the suburbs must function over wider geographic areas. Additionally, poor residents often lack a means of transpiration and public services are not available. Charitable regional and national foundations often focus on inner-cities and ignore the suburbs.
There are, however, considerable strengths inherent to the suburban school model. A growing student population will bring additional state and local resources, which has the potential to create new opportunities and programs to serve students better. These additional funds will not cover the whole costs associated with soaring student populations, but they will provide some means by which to address issues.
There are also opportunities for new educator talent. The suburban teacher workforce was trained in the 1950s and 1960s to serve more affluent and homogenous, and mostly native-born, white students. The new students – poorer, diverse, and non-English-speaking – pose significant challenges to the existing workforce but also fuel a demand for teachers with experience teaching disadvantaged and ELL students. Analysts expect a hiring boom in the suburbs for younger, up-and-coming teachers with the skills needed to educate these new generations of students.
Finally, activists and educators can harness community politics in a way that their urban peers cannot. Individuals in suburban areas, precisely because there are fewer people, have access to politics in a way that individuals in metropolitan areas do not. Individuals can attend community meetings and begin civic groups that can have a direct and immediate effect on education policy and the allotment of resources.
If these three built-in advantages to suburban schools districts are harnessed, then educators and policymakers could develop a model of successful, contemporary suburban schools in the near future.
The full report is available online.