That Prestigious Suburban School May Undermine Your Success

I tend to spend a lot of time envisioning the rise of cities and the decline of present day suburbia. But one topic that I have not discussed so far is the structure of the education system in urban areas as it compares to rural areas. Right now, suburban public schools nationwide far outperform urban schools and this is one reason that many families choose to live in the suburbs. Private schools are often located in cities and are a way for wealthy families to send their children to good schools but this further increases the cost burden of living in cities.

Urban school districts do tend to serve a variety of students from different income levels and ethnic groups. Because of the way that cities tend to exist today, many of these students that attend urban public schools come from lower income brackets and a higher percentage of students fall below the poverty line than students in suburban schools. Unfortunately there is a strong relationship between race, income level and academic performance. With higher percentages of students from lower socioeconomic groups, average academic performance tends to be lower in urban schools.

My overall point is that one must look past averages.

The public school system receives most of it's funding from a combination of tax dollars and government funds. Despite the fact that urban school districts tend to preform at lower levels than suburban schools, they also often receive more funding. Urban schools also tend to serve much greater numbers of students than do suburban schools. These factors together often mean that inner city schools can offer a greater variety of courses and programs to students than suburban schools. A common misconception about urban schools is that teachers are under-qualified. However, teachers in urban districts tend to receive higher salaries than those in suburban areas. Many highly skilled teachers choose to teach in cities for this reason.

But wait, does this mean that urban schools can actually be better than suburban schools? Yes.

Imagine that two high school students have similar academic abilities and both are high performers. One student goes to a suburban school and the other goes to an urban school. The student that goes to the suburban school may feel limited in the number of challenging courses that they can take. Since the school is so small it cannot offer a wide variety of electives and advanced placement classes. On the other hand, the student who attends an urban public high school feels more challenged because the school offers more opportunities. The suburban student graduates 3rd in a class of 100 students an the urban student graduates 5th in a class of 500. Both students worked hard and impressed college admissions departments, but the student from the urban school was accepted to colleges with higher rankings. In this scenario the student from the urban school had a better outcome.

While this may not be the average case, I believe that averages are misleading in the education world. It is challenging to objectively compare schools based on average results because the demographic prints of city schools are so different from schools in the suburbs. I feel that it is much more important and telling to compare the prospects of similar students.

Ultimately when deciding where to raise a family, school district statistics can be overwhelming and I feel that often these statistics have a large role in determining where children are raised. Despite the fact that it seems nearly counter-statistical, I feel that urban school districts may actually be able to serve students better than suburban schools in many cases.