Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
March 1, 2005
Vol. 62
No. 6

Perspectives / Our Cities, Ourselves

    Perspectives / Our Cities, Ourselves- thumbnail
      Cities—what's wonderful about them? Culture, energy, innovation, variety. What's not? Poverty, crime, bureaucracy. Suburbs—what are the benefits? Space, cleanliness, safety. And the downside? Mediocrity, conformity, homogeneity. Are these stereotypes true today? Are they even close?
      Sometimes trends in education repeat themselves. Ten years ago, weren't we dealing with the same themes—from classroom management to reading instruction—with different nuances? Yet when it comes to a theme like “Urban Schools,” the changes within a decade have slipped up on us as slowly as our commute creeps from suburb to suburb. Today, instead of the clean distinctions of the 1990s, we have what Bud Hodgkinson calls the “blurring of the 2000s.”
      Here's how he describes the changes in the locales we live in today based on his comparison of the 1990 and 2000 censuses: In 1990, most minorities, immigrants, and poor people lived in the inner cities. Beyond the cities were the close-in suburbs, where older people and white blue-collar workers made their homes; farther out, the middle-class baby boomers were raising their kids; and in the outermost region, farmers were rapidly selling their land for development.
      Today, Hodgkinson tells us, “poverty, diversity, money, and education are spread through all rings of the metropolitan area.” Half of us—and more every year—live in suburbs, one-fourth in big cities, and another fourth in small towns and rural areas. Racial and ethnic minorities, including recent immigrants, have moved to the suburbs. Some of the poorest people live in the cities, as do some of the wealthiest—those who can afford to pay for housing, entertainment, and security. Often the affluent urban citizens don't send their children to public schools, leaving schools less diverse and less supported.
      Meanwhile, in the suburbs, school districts are seeing a steady increase in student diversity, larger enrollments, and greater student mobility rates as families relocate for jobs elsewhere. Cultural diversity has arrived everywhere. A superintendent in suburban Long Island, New York, for example, notes that his district was 25 percent minority in 1997 and 42 percent in 2004. Suburban Fairfax County in Virginia serves families speaking 70 different languages.
      Other stereotypes are eroding, too. A report from the Manhattan Institute notes that behaviors of urban and suburban teenagers are not so different. Suburban high school students drink, smoke, use illegal drugs, and engage in delinquent behavior as often as urban students do. Another report blows away the myth of safety in schools: Rural students are almost as likely as urban students are to report that their school is unsafe, with suburban students only a few percentage points behind.
      As for achievement, as W. James Popham has written in Educational Leadership, some schools labeled by tests as “low-performing” are actually instructionally superior to some “high-performing” schools that are delivering weak instruction to privileged students. City schools are often those getting the bad rap.
      It is time to shed the perception that cities, suburbs, and rural schools aren't facing similar challenges and to acknowledge that the success of schools—no matter their location—is vital to solving the problems faced by our cities, suburbs, and towns. This issue turns to effective city schools for some solutions. How have they managed, and what lessons can they pass along?
      Several of our authors champion a return to community. From enlisting senior citizens as tutors and mentors (p. 22) to welcoming family participation in school management (p. 38), schools find they can achieve success only with a team effort. Others authors describe how master teachers mentor their colleagues and model approaches that engage students (pp. 28, 50, and 55). With solutions ranging from comprehensive school reform to smaller learning communities, urban schools are overcoming problems of anonymity and striving for a cohesive culture.
      But the bottom line seems to be that urban educators get nowhere with deficit thinking. “Highly effective teachers do not accept failure,” Corbett and colleagues tell us (p. 8). In “In Their Own Words” (p. 14), three principals embrace the new mantra of the urban leader. In addition to offering encouragement and support, they “take no excuses.”
      Hodgkinson writes,As we look for very young children at the greatest risk, we can no longer look only in inner cities, we must look everywhere, including wealthy suburbs and rural areas. (p. 8)
      That's where we need to look for the solutions to school problems, too.
      End Notes

      1 Hodgkinson, H. L. (2003). Leaving too many children behind. Washington, DC: Institute of Educational Leadership.

      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

      Learn More

      ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

      Let us help you put your vision into action.
      From our issue
      Product cover image 105033b.jpg
      Learning From Urban Schools
      Go To Publication