Exclusion keeps suburban schools on top

U. KANSAS (US) — By hoarding opportunity and keeping a tight grip on gained advantages, suburban schools have remained superior—at the expense of their urban counterparts, according to a new study.

“Basically, it’s rules of exclusion,” says John Rury, professor of education leadership and policy studies at the University of Kansas.

“Many suburbs are almost a textbook case of people doing that. They are often marketed as ‘exclusive neighborhoods’.”

Suburban schools have not always had advantages over their urban counterparts, according to the study that includes US Census data from 1940, 1960, and 1980.

“In the ’40s, urban schools were it. They were the best schools,” Rury says. “Forty years later, it was just the opposite.”

For the study, published in the American Journal of Education, researchers studied samples of 17-year-old students in grade 11 or higher in each census year in the northeast United States. The data linked the students to their parents and gave indications of their family status including income, place of residence, whether they lived in a single family home, and other social indicators.

Previous research studying the suburbanization of America, cites factors including white flight, declines of urban tax base, and the loss of jobs as factors that lead people to move to suburban neighborhoods.

Competitive neighborhoods by nature, suburbs started using schools to market themselves to potential residents in the decades after World War II. Suburban neighborhoods were able to exclude certain populations from moving in through exclusionary tactics such as higher home prices.

“The historical organization of suburban school districts, distinct from their urban counterparts, permitted exclusion of children without requisite social and economic resources, creating the conditions for educational inequality across community lines,” the researchers write.

Social factors play heavily in the improvement of suburban schools as well. Largely affluent neighborhoods saw positive benefits to their school multiply, while city center schools, often more burdened by poverty and single parent homes showed the opposite.

Those factors prevent urban dwellers from moving to the suburbs and their associated better schools, perpetuating the cycle, the study finds.

Surprisingly, Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case outlawing racial segregation of schools, and following cases did not make an immediate impact in the north and west United States.

Milliken v. Bradley, a 1974 Supreme Court case dealing with school integration, stated suburban schools did not have to be integrated unless it could be proven that they contributed to the segregation of urban schools. Southern schools were primarily organized in countywide school districts, which resulted in earlier integration.

A change in federal education policy is necessary to combat the education disparities, the study argues. Title 1, a program established in the 1960s to fight school inequality, has done little to bridge the educational gap. Federal policy similar to Title 1 should focus on cities at the core of the nation¹s metropolitan areas.

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