“Opportunity hoarding” in suburban schools

Two education researchers argue that suburban schools have practiced “opportunity hoarding”:

While urban schools’ not keeping pace with suburban schools is an acknowledged problem, few have studied the causes of the discrepancies. John Rury and Argun Saatcioglu, professor and assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies, recently published an article in the American Journal of Education showing how some suburban school districts gained advantages, thereby excluding them from some others. “Opportunity hoarding,” a term coined by sociologist Charles Tilley, claims that a group that gains advantages tends to work to maintain them.

“Basically, it’s rules of exclusion,” Rury said of the term. “Many suburbs are almost a textbook case of people doing that. They are often marketed as ‘exclusive neighborhoods.’”

Suburban schools have not always had advantages over their urban counterparts. Rury and Saatcioglu studied census data from 1940, 1960 and 1980.

“In the ’40s, urban schools were it. They were the best schools,” Rury said. “Forty years later, it was just the opposite.”

This would fit with a larger story of suburbanites escaping the problems of the city after World War II.

This overview makes it sound like the researchers propose a zero-sum game: if suburban schools have more resources, city schools necessarily have less. Is this necessarily the case? And what evidence is there that suburban schools and communities don’t want to give up their school’s advantages – a resistance to forms of property tax sharing? How could suburbanites be convinced that giving up their own advantages, such as better schools, is worthwhile?

The comment about the switch from the good schools being in the city to the suburbs reminds me of the book Schools Betrayed: Roots of Failure in Inner-City Education. This text looks at what changed in the Chicago Public Schools between 1940 and 1960, emphasizing the increasing segregation within these Northern schools.

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