Public schools eye major shift in class makeup
KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. — The cheerful sign outside Jane Cornell's summer school classroom in Pennsylvania's wealthiest county reads “Welcome” and “Bienvenidos” in polished handwriting.
Inside, giggling grade-schoolers who mostly come from homes where Spanish is the primary language worked on storytelling with a tale about a crocodile going to the dentist. This poster and classroom at the Mary D. Lang Kindergarten Center are a subtle representation of America's changing school demographics.
For the first time ever, public schools are projected to have more minority students than non-Hispanic whites, a shift largely fueled by growth in the number of Hispanic children.
Non-Hispanic white students are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools this year at 49.8 percent. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, minority students, when added together, will now make up the majority.
About one-quarter of the minority students are Hispanic, 15 percent are black and 5 percent are Asian and Pacific Islanders. Biracial students and Native Americans make up an even smaller share of the minority student population.
The shift brings new academic realities, such as the need for more English language instruction, and cultural ones, such as changing school lunch menus to reflect students' tastes.
But it also brings up some complex societal questions that often fall to school systems to address, including issues of immigration, poverty, diversity and inequity.
The result, at times, is racial tension.
In Louisiana in July, Jefferson Parish public school administrators reached an agreement with the federal government to end an investigation into discrimination against English language learners. In May, police had to be called to help break up a fight between Hispanic and black students in a school in Streamwood, a Chicago suburb, after a racially based lunchroom brawl got out of control.
Issues of race and ethnicity in schools can be more subtle.
In Pennsylvania's Kennett Consolidated School District, Superintendent Barry Tomasetti described parents who opt to send their children to private schools in Delaware after touring diverse classrooms. Other families, he said, seek out the district's diverse schools “because they realize it's not a homogenous world out there.”
The changes in the district from mostly middle-to-upper class white to about 40 percent Hispanic was in part driven by workers migrating from Mexico and other countries to work the mushroom farms.
“We like our diversity,” Tomasetti said, even as he acknowledged the cost. He has had to hire English language instructors and translators for parent-teacher conferences. He has cobbled money together to provide summer school for many young English language learners who need extra reading and math support.
“Our expectation is all of our kids succeed,” he said.
The new majority-minority status of America's schools mirrors a change that is coming for the nation as a whole. The Census Bureau estimates that the country's population will have more minorities than whites for the first time in 2043, a result of higher birth rates among Hispanics and a stagnating or declining birth rate among blacks, whites and Asians.
Even as the population becomes more diverse, schools are becoming more racially divided, reflecting housing patterns.
The disparities are evident even in the youngest of black, Hispanic and Native American children, who on average enter kindergarten academically behind their white and Asian peers. They are more likely to attend failing schools and face harsher school discipline.
Later, they have lower standardized test scores, on average, fewer opportunities to take advanced classes, and are less likely to graduate.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- NYC public schools to close on 2 major Muslim holidays
- Winter storm swirls from Texas to New England
- Defense strategy for Boston Marathon bombing defendant Tsarnaev is to avoid death penalty
- This winter, a fur coat’s not enough
- Ferguson’s white officer justified in shooting black man, feds find
- Mogul donates $100M to Lincoln Center
- Inside job suspected in robbery of gold bars from truck
- Lawmakers press Veterans Affairs for improved access to rural health care
- U.S. clears police officer in Ferguson case, criticizes police force
- Senate fails to override Obama veto of Keystone pipeline bill
- McConnell wants EPA rule rejected