Report shows California’s 296 suburban districts are diverse and varied

All school assembly for a music performance by third, fourth and fifth graders at Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Photos by Alison Yin for EdSource

A report this week on the state’s 296 suburban school districts refutes the notion that they’re homogenous and largely white enclaves. Data show that overall they reflect the state’s diversity, but defy generalizations because individually they vary greatly in demographics, wealth and academic achievement.

The report, “Beyond the White Picket Fence: A Picture of Suburban Schools in California,” was written by Sherry Reed of the California Education Lab at UC Davis. Suburban districts are generally located within a large metropolitan area but outside of a principal city.

Among the findings:

  • There are  2.6 million students in 4,266  suburban schools, compared with 2.8 million students in 4,450  urban school;
  • Students in suburban districts are racially and ethnically diverse: 52% of students are Latinos, compared with 55% statewide; 24% White (22% statewide), 10% Asian American (9% statewide) and 5% are Black (5% statewide);
  • Suburban districts as a whole are wealthier: 55% of students qualify for free or reduced price school meals, compared with 62% of urban students and 59% of rural students.

Overall numbers, however, mask differences:

  • In one-quarter of suburban districts, nearly 75% of all students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals;
  • In 15% of suburban districts the rates of student homelessness are more than double the statewide rate of 3.2%;
  • In about 10% of suburban districts, more than one-third of students are English learners compared with 19% statewide;
  • Third-graders meeting or exceeding standards on the Smarter Balanced tests range from 8% in English language arts and 12% in math in a small Central Valley district to 93% for English language arts and 96% in math in a Santa Barbara County district.

Reed concludes that false perceptions of homogeneity and wealth in suburban districts may divert attention and resources from suburban districts. “Our outdated perceptions of suburban America may result in unintentional neglect of the over 2.6 million students living in suburban areas,” the report concludes.

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