Academic journal article Theory in Action

Educational Attainment in a High Performing School District: The Relative Significance of Class1

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Educational Attainment in a High Performing School District: The Relative Significance of Class1

Article excerpt


This paper sheds light on the considerable weight social class incurs in determining different rates of educational attainment within racial and ethnic groups in suburban public schools. The intersection of race, ethnicity, and class to analyze the growing complexities of inequalities in educational outcomes is a popular topic for social scientists and a growing concern for policy analysts4. We take a unique approach in analyzing educational attainment, as our focus is on educational differences for students within the same racial and ethnic groups in suburban schools rather than among these groups.

Perhaps one of the least expected consequences of the fair housing legislation enacted to end housing segregation during the civil rights era was the flight of middle-class African- Americans and other minorities to the suburbs (Wilson, 1987). According to recent data released by the Maryland Department of Planning, the three counties most adjacent to Washington, DC have a minority population ranging from 42 percent in Montgomery and Charles counties to 81 percent in Prince George's County in 2010. The Washington, DC inner suburbs are not an anomaly with regard to this type of demographic breakdown. As of late, increased racial and ethnic diversity in many suburban areas have been further stratified by class after recent immigrants and other disadvantaged populations priced out of inner city neighborhoods by gentrification, urban renewal, and the changing character of solidarity among many traditional neighborhoods in cities around the country relocate outside cities boundaries.

One of the most significant consequences of the stratification process pertains to how proficiency levels, once exclusively experienced by decaying city public schools, are now evident in many inner suburbs throughout the nation. Even in highly successful school districts serving affluent populations, profound inequalities in educational outcomes have emerged. 5 Once student outcomes are desegregated by income, the achievement picture discussed publicly by educational officials from suburban school districts with high educational attainment rates begins to change drastically.

In Montgomery County, our particular case study, population movement and the structure of displacement have manifested in one of two ways. At the county level, there is a skew pattern of income disparity that runs along the county's East/West corridor. There are high concentrations of affordable housing and lower middle-class quarters in the Eastern end bordering Prince George's County while the more affluent residents congregate on the Western side of the county. For reasons related to affordability and accessibility, the Eastern region also serves as a gateway for new immigrants. At the neighborhood level, patterns of social networks, friendships, and generosity ties, have resulted in the clustering of low-income residents in more affordable housing districts changing the social composition of mixed neighborhoods and public schools.

The town of Wheaton is an example of the extent to which these demographic changes manifest themselves in some suburban municipalities. A town of about fifty thousand, Wheaton came to life in the 1950s as a result of the explosion of federal workers and war veterans who took advantage of low interest and accessible home mortgage loans to escape the city for suburbia while still enjoying a relatively short and pleasant commute to work in downtown Washington, DC. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, in 1990, 61 percent of Wheaton' s population identified themselves as White, 15 percent as African American, 13 percent as Hispanic, and 10 percent as Asian. In just ten years, however, the White population decreased by half. Twenty years later, Whites only accounted for 26 percent of the population, while African Americans accounted for 18 percent, and Asians for 12 percent. Once a minority among Wheaton' s residents, the Hispanic population has grown to 42 percent of the total town population (Washington Post, February 15, 2010, ? …

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