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Education in the American South: Historical Context, Current State, and Future Possibilities

Kelly Robson
Jennifer O’Neal Schiess
Justin Trinidad
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Any movement serious about improving outcomes for underserved young people must include the South. It is the fastest-growing region in the country and home to more than one-third of all K-12 students nationwide. Fifty-seven percent of black students and substantial portions of the nation’s English language learner and migrant student populations live and attend school in the South. The region is also an economic powerhouse, contributing more to the U.S. economy than any other region.

But the South faces particular and unique historical, financial, economic, and performance challenges. Academic outcomes in most Southern states fall well below national averages. In many communities, measures of well-being and economic mobility are low: Southern states have higher poverty rates, lower median incomes, higher rates of free and reduced-price lunch eligibility, and lower educational attainment than other regions.    

With a few notable exceptions, the South is largely overlooked by education reformers.

Addressing the needs of students in this region requires deeper understanding and nuanced solutions that respond to the diversity of populations, geographies, urbanicity, and resources at work. “Education in the American South,” a comprehensive slide deck, aims to kick-start this discussion.

The deck provides a detailed analysis of academic outcomes in Southern states, placing them in historical, economic, and political context. It also traces the development of public schools in the South and shows that the modern education reform movement has its roots in the South, where strategies like accountability, charter schools, private school choice, and school governance reform were first piloted.  

The goal of this informative deck is to spark deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in education in the American South and encourage ideas and innovations to address the needs of students in this diverse and complex region.

Download the full deck here or read it in the viewer below.