Prioritizing Black Students In Suburban Schools

When advocating for Black children, the focus is usually on Black students in the city. It’s because Black students traditionally attend schools in the city versus anywhere else. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more Black people attend school in the city (46%) than in towns, rural areas, and the suburbs. We often forget about Black students outside the city. But updated data from NCES beckons that we pay Black students more attention outside the city.  

An Education Week article highlights the call of researchers for educators and advocates to change their perception of suburban schools. Traditionally, suburban schools are viewed as white, wealthy, and enclaves of privilege. NCES data shows that this traditional characterization is growing inaccurate. According to NCES data, students of color make up the majority of students in suburban schools (54%) versus white students (46%).

Figure 1 – Student Location Population Percentage According to Racial Demographics  

 White StudentsStudents of ColorBlack Students

*Source: National Center for Education Statistics

In addition, suburban schools mirror those in cities, towns, and rural areas where poverty is a concern. While extreme poverty isn’t as big a challenge in suburban schools as it is elsewhere, suburban schools face the challenge of educating students at middle levels of poverty.

Figure 2 – Student Poverty Percentage by Location According to Racial Demographics  

 Total Students (Middle Poverty Levels)Black Students (Middle Poverty Levels)White Students (Middle Poverty Levels)

*Source: National Center for Education Statistics
**Middle-poverty level consists of school districts with 8.1% to 19.1% of poor 5 to 17-year-olds

According to Education Week, Suburban schools deal with other challenges as well:

Suburban schools have experienced challenges with chronic absenteeism, declines in academic achievement, student mental health problems, and staffing shortages in recent years, just as schools in other settings have. In some cases, the challenges in suburban schools have been more pronounced.”

Of the over 49 million students enrolled in public schools, over 20 million or 42% of students attend schools in the suburbs, more than any location. With those schools being diverse, and having the challenge of educating a notable population of indigent students, we cannot forget about suburban schools when addressing the needs of Black students. For example, Black students need Black teachers no matter where they attend schools. In every locale, Black students are disproportionately underrepresented concerning Black teachers.

Figure 3 – Teacher Racial Demographics by Location

 % White Teachers% TOC% Black Teachers% Latino Teachers

*Source: National Center for Education Statistics

As mentioned, this data means that we can’t overlook Black students in suburban schools. But the data means something else: suburban white people can no longer ignore Black students and other students of color as in years past. Although students from diverse backgrounds may have the potential for improved opportunities in such environments, there are educational and social consequences that could negatively impact the socio-emotional development and academic advancement of these individuals.

Whether elected school board members, administrators, or teachers, the needs of Black students, and students of color in general, must be a priority.

This means that suburban schools must wholeheartedly address racism within the policies, procedures, and practices within those districts. In general, the experiences of African Americans in the United States differ significantly from those of other ethnic groups, due in part to the navigation and negotiation of three distinct but interrelated realms of experience: (a) oppressed minority, (b) African-rooted Black culture, and (c) mainstream U.S. culture.

Although Black students may excel in these settings at times, they may still experience sensations of isolation and culture shock while adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings and grappling with issues like microaggressions and racism. That Black students navigate schools where their cultural affirmation is not a priority, where the adults don’t reflect their racial and cultural identity, where they are likely perceived as older, less innocent, and more of a behavioral problem compared to their peers is dehumanizing and a crime. According to research found in Voices in Urban Education (VUE):

“African American children bring to school with them culturally-based ways of doing, seeing, and knowing; however, White teachers responsible for educating diverse populations of students struggle with interpreting the complexity of the influence that culture, race, and ethnicity have on the academic, social, emotional, and psychological development of students of color and its connectedness to learning. Culturally-based ways of doing, seeing, and knowing are naturally expressed by African American students with urban backgrounds through their use of African American English, code-switching techniques between urban and suburban settings, traditionally Black or African American hairstyle options and clothing choices, often containing socially conscious messages, like Black Lives Matter and Hands up, don’t shoot.” 

Advocates for Black children will continue to advocate and speak out on behalf of all children. Advocates will continue to call for Black history to be taught, discipline policies to be upheaved, and for Black teachers to be hired. But what are educators in the suburbs—most of whom are white (80% for teachers and 79% for administrators)—gonna do (pardon my use of the vernacular)?

Will they adhere to what the research says and what their Black students and families communicate to them? Or will they maintain the status quo? Whether they realize it or not, America’s schools are changing. White students are already in the minority as far as nationwide enrollment; since 2014. The needs of Students of color can no longer be an afterthought… specifically Black students, in a space, a country, that is historically anti-Black.

If all lives do matter, start showing that Black lives do.


  1. Excellent article that picks up the mantle regarding equitable opportunities for black students; which results in equivocal preparedness for career and life paths afforded to black families. It’s a fact that when most know better, we live better. Many blacks actually suffer due to lack of knowledge. Thank you for caring and continuing the fight for what our children are exposed to after taking a seat in the classroom.


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