Urban education is defined as schooling that takes place in urban environment. The aim of urban education studies is to determine how urban conditions affect the quality and other aspects of education.
One problem in urban education studies is defining the term urban in this context. Urban is contrasted with rural in many sociological and educational analyses. However, the full meaning of these concepts most often remains unspecified, which is a problem because both terms have different meanings across cultures and because not all groups in these environments are affected equally by being urban or rural.
Education is a kind of social interaction and as such it is inevitably affected by the environment in which it takes place. Studies have shown that factors such as density, size and heterogeneity of city population have an effect on social relations.
The increasing population in cities is a common characteristic of contemporary society, this urbanization being more intense in developing countries. However, urban growth goes faster than industrial and economic growth so urbanization is often linked to poverty.
Life in the city provides certain advantages such as access to public services, including education, diverse forms of entertainment, modern technologies and comfort, easy transportation and communication, along with possibilities of employment. However, in reality these are often privilege for the wealthy. Most cities are characterized by internal differentiation and segregation between rich and poor and the gap between the two groups is easily visible due to the proximity in which they live.
As a big part of the urban population is characterized by poverty, one of the aims of urban education studies is to understand and improve the schooling of the urban poor. In the article The Challenge and Potential of High-Need Urban Education (2005) educational psychologist Chandra J. Foote, differentiates between high-need urban schools and urban, suburban and rural schools with higher economic resources. According to the scholar, the problem with lower achievements of students in high-need urban schools could be solved by improving the knowledge, skills and dispositions of teachers that work with these students.
Foote looks at the problems of urban education from several perspectives (physical resources, teachers and students), citing different researches and reports. Urban schools often lack basic material resources and classroom equipment such as desks, chalkboards, textbooks and computers, which if available could help reduce the achievement gap.
From a teacher's perspective, the classrooms in urban schools are usually overcrowded, which affects the instructional techniques that can be used, the level of student concentration in class and the classroom management. Another problem that urban education faces is the quality of the teachers employed. Urban schools often hire inexperienced and less prepared teachers due to lack of finances and other incentives to attract veteran and better prepared teachers. In addition, urban teachers are generally under-prepared to meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse children while at the same time they are more likely to work with such groups.
Another problem is that urban teachers often focus on teacher-directed instructional approaches such as whole-group instruction and teacher control and dedicate less time to higher-order thinking skills. As a result, urban students remain passive non-participants in the classroom and are less likely to develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition, urban teachers often misinform students about their academic performance, giving them higher grades than what they would get in suburban schools for the same work.
Sometimes, mainly due to negative representations in media, urban students are seen as the cause rather than the effect of the problems in urban education. Students in urban schools are often described using words as diverse, poor or at-risk. Besides those problems, urban students also face a risk of bigger exposure to violence, which is said to lead to aggressive behavior, cognitive distortions, learning difficulties and other problems. In addition, urban students are more likely to show disruptive behavior in class and be absent from school. Urban families are said to move more frequently, which results in inconsistent school attendance and higher transfer rates for children. All these characteristics lead to higher dropout rate for urban students, which increases the chance of them being unemployed or under employed as adults.
The combined effects of the above mentioned problems of urban education are reflected in lower achievements of urban students. For example, research has shown that 75 percent of 12th graders in high-need schools do not have basic skills in mathematics and 80 percent lack basic skills in science. In addition, urban students are less likely to complete their high-school education on time.