For the first time in U.S. history, ethnic and racial minorities are projected to make up the majority of students attending American public schools this fall, ending the white-majority population that has existed from the beginnings of the public education system.
The U.S. Education Department projected that this fall, the percentage of students who are white will drop from 51 percent in 2012 to 49.7. In 1997, white enrollment was 63.4 percent; by 2022, it is projected that minorities will constitute 54.7 percent of the public school student population and whites, 45.3 percent. Here’s a chart created by the Pew Research Center from demographic projections by the federal government:
This doesn’t mean that if you walk into a random public school classroom, there will be more minority students than white students because of the way children are segregated in communities and schools. In fact, several studies in recent years have shown such increased levels of segregation in public schools that the authors conclude that the country’s success as a multiracial society is at risk. In 2012, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA released three reports — “E Pluribus . . . Separation: Deepening Double Segregation for More Students,” plus two regional studies found segregation growing based on both race and poverty,. with 15 percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino students attend “apartheid schools” across the nation in which whites make up zero to 1 percent of the enrollment, the researchers found.
Most of the growth is driven by U.S.-born Hispanic and Asian children rather than immigrant children. The number of Hispanic and Asian school-age children born in the U.S. has boomed, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data. The difference in growth between U.S.-born and immigrant children is most dramatic among Hispanics. From 1997 to 2013, the number of Hispanic children ages 5 to 17 born in the U.S. jumped 98%, while the group’s immigrant population of the same age declined by 26%. Among Asians of this age, the number of U.S.-born Asians increased 50% during this time, and the immigrant population increased a more modest 9%.
Still, the overall shift has important ramifications for public policymakers given that achievement gaps between most minorities and white students are large and in some places continue to grow. With more English Language Learners and students who come from low-income families, public schools will be challenged as never before to meet the needs of more students at a time when education funding is strapped in many areas and education policymakers have concentrated their efforts on standardized-test based school reform rather than providing well-rounded supports for students in need.