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Preface ————— In the fall of 1997 President Clinton told his commission on U.S. race relations that Fairfax County would be a good place to study how people from different backgrounds live, work, and go to school together (Lipton and Benning, 1997). His observation confirmed a suspicion of mine that more attention should be devoted to understanding what goes on in suburbs and suburban school systems. Researchers in education are captivated by the complexity of urban schooling and the nostalgic innocence of rural schooling , but the fact remains that a majority of American youth grow up and attend school in suburbs. President Clinton singled out Fairfax County because it is increasingly characterized by the diversity—cultural, linguistic, religious, and socioeconomic—that once was associated exclusively with cities. To understand America’s future, it is essential that we understand what is happening to its suburbs and school systems. My effort to advance this understanding focuses on one Virginia school system—Fairfax County Public Schools—during the tumultuous years from 1954 to 2004. This half century witnessed unprecedented growth in Fairfax County and its schools, the Brown decision and desegregation, the expansion of state and federal governments’ roles in local education, the influx of large numbers of poor and non-English-speaking students, the advent of elected school boards, and the institution of sweeping accountability measures. In order to become the highly acclaimed school system that it is today, Fairfax County Public Schools had to confront all of these challenges and more. The title’s reference to Fairfax County Public Schools as an education empire is not intended as an attention-grabbing gimmick . One of the nation’s largest school systems, Fairfax serves roughly one out of every seven students in Virginia—over 166,000 students as of 2004. In addition, the school system runs extensive programs for preschool-age youngsters with special needs and adults seeking to earn a G.E.D. or simply expand their knowledge. xiii In 2003 the school system’s Office of Adult and Community Education recorded a total enrollment of 84,519 in its courses, making it the largest adult education operation in the nation. To see that students get to school and back, the school system operates one of the largest bus fleets in the United States. Each school day 1,500 buses transport 110,000 students to and from schools. Fairfax’s food services unit provides meals for 145,000 students and staff members each school day. In addition, senior citizens were served more than 97,000 meals at 23 school sites in 2003. With over 21,000 employees, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is one of Virginia’s largest employers. The continuing education of this massive workforce is yet another of the school system’s responsibilities. In 2002–2003, almost 9,000 teachers took courses offered by the FCPS Academy. While no one would argue that Fairfax is a typical suburban school system, it has faced and is facing a number of challenges— such as population growth and increasing numbers of students from poor and culturally and linguistically diverse families—that are likely to confront other suburban school systems over the coming years. More importantly, Fairfax has been able to address these challenges without experiencing a dramatic decline in educational excellence. The giant school system, in fact, has actually continued to raise student achievement, in the process demonstrating that there is good reason to be hopeful regarding the prospects for public education. My fascination with Fairfax County Public Schools began when my program area at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education established an off-grounds degree program for prospective school administrators in Northern Virginia. I was impressed with the intelligence and commitment of the Fairfax educators who took my courses. As they completed projects related to the history and operation of Fairfax County Public Schools, I began to acquire a basic understanding of the forces shaping this remarkable school system. I have drawn heavily on the fine work of these graduate students and would like to express my appreciation to Patricia Addison, Brenda Aiken, Pam Ballato, Denny Berry, Mark Boyd, Jeff Carroll, Martha Chamberlin, Jonathan Chang, Jamie Deaton, Kim Dockery, Elizabeth Duckworth, Esther Eacho, Sharon Eisenberg, Amy Goodloe, Karen Sue Hurwitz, Erin Jones, Denise Katz, Angela Kheradmand, Kathleen R. Lamont, Joanne Leone, Yvette Lewis, Melony Mackin, Jamilla Mannie, Jay McClain, Linda R. Mezera, Phyllis Pajardo, Shelley Prince, Alice xiv Education Empire Reilly, David Spage, and Grace Wang. My graduate research...


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