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The rapid demographic shift of American public schools

Pew has produced a good chart today, seen below, of U.S. Department of Education projections showing that the nation's public schools this fall will for the first time be majority-minority:

The demographic shift in public schools since just the late '90s has been remarkable, driven both by the decline of white enrollment and population growth among U.S.-born Hispanic and Asian children (this is not, Pew points out, a demographic story primarily about immigration). According to Pew's analysis of Census data, the number of U.S.-born Hispanic children aged 5 to 17 in the U.S. nearly doubled between 1997 and 2013.

White children, by comparison, make up nearly three-quarters of private school enrollment today.

It's important to note, though, that the increasing diversity of public school enrollment in America won't necessarily mean that public school classrooms will soon be more diverse. We have to look at demographics through geography — and education policy through housing patterns — as Pew demographer Conrad Hackett points out with this interesting suggestion:

How's that possible? If minorities are largely concentrated in nearly all-minority schools as a result of housing segregation, the number of majority-white schools could still outnumber them (imagine what would happen, for instance, if we had 55 minority children and 45 whites ones in a district with five schools, and two of those five schools were 100 percent minority).

As I've written before, school-aged children in America are more segregated than the population at large, making this a real possibility. In some parts of the country, black children are now more likely to attend nearly all-black schools than they were in the 1960s. Nationwide, the share of blacks attending majority-white schools has been falling. Data also suggest that the average Hispanic student today attends a school that's majority-Hispanic (scroll down in Niraj Chokshi's post here for a great interactive).

There are a lot of implications to this, but here's just one: If children continue to attend schools full of other children who look just like them, even as the demographics of the country shift, they may get few of the educational benefits that could come from that diversity.

Emily Badger is a reporter for Wonkblog covering urban policy. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities.



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Niraj Chokshi · August 18, 2014

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