Over the past two decades, big cities have been the most consistent focus of investment and controversy in American public education. The challenges for big cities are obvious because they don’t know how to write scientific research essay now. Increasing numbers of foreign-born students and students living in poverty, coupled with dramatic declines in the numbers of native-born middle-class students mean that cities face an unprecedented array of educational needs and great uncertainty about how to meet them. Debates about how to make city public schools effective, particularly about whether to shore up existing arrangements or experiment with new ways of running and overseeing schools, have been intense.
While urban schools continue to warrant attention, school districts in many suburbs just outside the central city’s limits (inner-ring suburbs) have similar trends but have received less notice. These school districts— from Prince George’s County, Maryland to Reynoldsburg, Ohio, and Aurora, Colorado to Burien, Washington— have also experienced population changes as dramatic as those in big cities.
Some might argue that inner-ring suburbs undergoing population changes have been lucky to avoid the battles over education policy, teacher strikes, and state interventions. But for suburbs with growing numbers of disadvantaged students, neglect has not all been benign. Many suburbs are economically distressed and not well equipped to handle major new challenges. Even suburban school systems that were effective for the groups that moved there after World War II are likely not prepared to meet the new array of student needs or to find solutions to unprecedented problems. Public school populations are rapidly becoming more impoverished, especially in suburbs. Starting in 2013, students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) constituted a majority of all public school students in the U.S. City school populations remained the poorest on average (60 percent FRL compared to 40 percent in suburbs and 25 percent in rural areas), but suburban poverty is rising faster.
Take Highline Public Schools, which serves over 19,000 students in Burien, Washington, between the major urban hubs of Seattle and Tacoma. That district serves higher proportions of FRL and language minority students, and students of color, than most of the big cities to the north and south of it. And these phenomena are new: since 1998 the proportion of Highline’s FRL students increased by over 25 percentage points, and the number of English language learners (ELLs) grew from 7 percent to 21 percent. Nationwide, as shown in the New Republic chart below, suburbs are becoming increasingly diverse.