Pop Quiz: Suburbs

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pop Quiz: Suburbs

Pop quiz: Where do most children in the United States live?

    A. Cities
    B. Suburbs



If you picked B, you’d be right. Roughly 40 percent of children attending U.S. K-12 schools live in the suburbs, whereas only 30 percent live in cities. Yet, most attention in philanthropy, federal funding, and media focuses on cities, likely because of population density and because that’s where politics plays out. It’s just not where most of the students are.

Next question: Where are poverty levels worse?

    A. Cities
    B. Suburbs


The answer is also B. Poverty in the suburbs outgrew poverty in cities in the 2000s. Today, “One in three poor Americans—about 16.4 million people—lives in the suburbs.” Yet, most solutions involved with educating impoverished youth focus on cities.

Next question: Where is the biggest growth of English language learner (ELL) student populations?

    A. Cities
    B. Suburbs


B. You might be spotting a trend here. “Nearly 5.5 million ELL students are enrolled in U.S. public schools, double the number from the mid-1990s. The fastest-growing student population in the country, ELLs are expected to double again by 2025. While most are enrolled in urban district schools, by far the biggest growth is taking place in rural and suburban districts…”

Last question: Where are there more schools and districts?

    A. Cities
    B. Suburbs


B. Yes, it’s suburbs all the way down. While cities account for only 5 percent of the districts and 26 percent of the schools, suburbs come in with 20 percent of all U.S. districts and 27 percent of schools. And once again, we see district transformation and improved school design efforts develop more in cities, not nearly as much in suburbs.

Bottom line: If we want to improve K-12 education for most U.S. students, most districts, and most schools; if we want to address the places where we find the most poverty and the most incoming ELL students—then we need to think also in terms of suburbs, not just cities. The solutions that have been tried on the latter might not work on the former. In our new paper, Suburban Schools: The Unrecognized Frontier in Public Education, Sean Gill, Paul Hill, and I explore the changing nature of suburbs, how those changes affect education, and what the suburbs can do in response. Come what may, suburbs will need to adapt. While sidewalks and yards might be there to stay, the shape of the suburban school district is overdue for transformation.

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