Grant Hand: Suburbanization and School Stratification

The issues that Professor Jack Dougherty addressed on Tuesday were very interesting. He brought to light a new dimension of the stratification of schooling in America in the last century by highlighting an aspect of education that most people forget about, geography. Because of the way our school system is arranged, and like he said this is not necessarily the case in the rest of world, parents can engage in a process that he called “school shopping,” which essentially amounts to paying for public education. That included the not so subtle actions of the real-estate agents who would engage in racial and social “steering” both overtly, by advertising houses by their school districts, and also covertly, by suggesting to prospective home buyers that they search for a house in one particular area. His study adds a whole new dimension to public schools which many people thought had disappeared with the integration of the schools; as it turns out, segregation continued, just in a legal form.

While the study is limited to Hartford and its suburbs, the implications reach far beyond Connecticut. It is true, and Professor Dougherty admitted this, that Hartford is a rather extreme case; the wealthiest city in the nation with a prestigious public high school at the center of its school system, transformed into a poverty-ridden urban slum with some of the worst schools in the state, and even the country. While the suburbanization of Hartford may seem localized, the malicious practices of the real-estate agents were sufficiently wide spread to prompt a national act in response. This clearly shows that the practice of racial and social steering applies to other cities that experienced suburbanization around this period. This is important because it tells the education reformer that he must be mindful of yet another aspect of society as s/he quests to fix the system. It cannot be forgotten that in many of these school districts, parents have openly paid extra in order to have their children in the “right” school. What’s more, for many parents, it appears, the “right” school has a lot to do with racial make-up. What the professor did was simply bring to light yet another way that social problems have manifested themselves in the public school system. Our schools are a micro chasm of our society and one cannot be addressed with the other.

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