Black Suburbia: Panacea for Urban Education?
Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Teaching
Recent research on the public education of black students in majority minority suburbs has suggested that both their experience in school and educational outcomes mimic that of their urban counterparts (Ascher and Branch-Smith, 2005). The irony is that with the increase of black suburbanization in the past 30 years, suburbia has not met the expectation of its black residents. So although the suburbs are generally viewed as a means for access to a better material lifestyle, and specifically improved schooling conditions and higher levels of academic performance for children and youth, the trend of black suburbanization has not followed suit. Majority black suburbs tend to have the following characteristics:situated close to the central city, few jobs, poor governmental services, high taxes, lower appreciation of residential real estate, and a hybrid mix of low income to moderate to high income households (Alba & Logan, 1993).These spatial characteristics of black suburbia, it has been suggested,translate into differences in school quality (Gosa and Alexander, 2007).
My research and professional activities have been directed toward both examining the educational experiences of black students in majority minority suburbs and providing them with educational enrichment activities that can further better opportunities for their own personal advancement. I am fortunate to have collaborated withHofstra faculty on a few projects that allow me to pursue my research interests.
I have been involved in research with Dr. Eustace Thompson of theDepartment of Foundations, Leadership and Policy Studies, examining student perceptions of academic press in a public school in a majority minority suburb. I have collaborated withDr. Roberto Joseph of the Department of Curriculum and Teaching on a recent grant-funded project with theNew York State Education Department of Teachers Opportunity Corps. This grant addresses teacher quality in underperforming minority schools. It allows the School of Education, Health and Human Services at Hofstra to provide historically disadvantaged students and others committed to teaching in underperforming schools with the rigorous preparation they need to promote student academic success in grades 7-12. The other project thatI am involved in is a collaboration with Dr. Joseph and Dr. Blidi Stemnof the Department of Curriculum andTeaching. This project expressly targets the underperformance of minority girls in the areas of math and science.For this project, we are seeking grant funding to develop socially relevant curriculum for a summer learning academy for minority adolescent girls in majority minority suburbs. Each project is discussed below.
School Quality in Black Suburbia
Addressing the quality of education in public schools in majority black suburbs is an under-researched area.Most research on the schooling experience of blacks in general focuses on the achievement gap between whites and blacks. This line of research has attempted to correlate black students’schooling outcomes (i.e., achievement)with their socioeconomic backgrounds,including family status, income,educational level and their attitudes toward schooling. When school settings are discussed in the research literature,the characteristics (conditions) of the school setting are tied to the racial and class identity (also known as student composition) of the youth population that inhabits that particular space. This particular approach has been questioned by several scholars.
In the past year, my colleague,Dr. Eustace Thompson, and I have been working on research that focuses on black student perspectives of their educational environment. Specifically,our inquiry, which emerged from our work with doctoral students, examines high school seniors’ perspectives of academic press in their school environment. Academic press as one factor of school climate is conceived,according to Lee and Smith (1999),from the notion of press in organizational theory. Press, they explain, is “... pressure toward a common purpose from which school members are not expected to deviate.The organization sets a normative environment that motivates its members to behave in desirable ways ...” (p. 912).Therefore, academic press, according to Shouse (1997), is based on the following components: academic climate, disciplinary climate, and teachers’ instructional practice and emphasis. Academic press is present when the quality of the teacher,student and school interaction fosters motivation and accountability in vested parties. The school has to offer to all its students a challenging and rigorous curriculum. In turn, students will then work hard to strive for recognition of their academic performance by adhering to school rules designed to promote achievement. Moreover,teachers are engaged and committed to teaching in ways that promote student understanding and foster motivation in students. Teacher practices include creating meaningful assignments and learning experiences and careful monitoring of student progress, relaying assessment outcomes to parents and students in a timely manner.
Our preliminary analysis of the data suggests that academic press was missing within this suburban school. Our student participants reported a school environment that they perceived as lacking accountability and responsibility in providing a quality education. The students described a high degree of uncertainty, which they believed permeated the school climate.The school did not prepare them adequately for college entrance, leaving them to conclude that, in the end, they must shoulder the entire responsibility for their academic success. The student participants explained that the academic program did not provide challenging classes and that a culture was created,as described by one participant, “...that many students knew they could just get by.”