News & Politics

White Students No Longer the Majority in U.S Public Schools

The demographic shift is fueled by strong growth in the number of Hispanic children.

For the very first time, U.S. public schools are expected this year to have more minority students enrolled than non-Hispanic white students, the Associate Press reported. The shift is said to be due to the large growth in the number of Hispanic children entering public schools.

Non-Hispanic white students are still expected to be the largest racial group in public schools overall at 49.8 percent. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, when added together, minority students will now make up the majority.

According to the AP, "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."

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Educators say the transformation will bring about new academic and cultural realities, including the need to introduce more English language classes into the curriculum and possibly amend school lunch menus to reflect diverse students’ palates. 

Some schools have witnessed parents choosing to send their kids to private schools instead of more diverse public schools, while others have had to hire more English-language translators at parent-teacher conferences. In addition, schools have had to contend with racial violence between different ethnicities. Just last month in an Illinois town, police were called to break up a racial brawl between Hispanic and black students that spun out of control, ending in six arrests.

On a larger scale, this demographic shift shines a spotlight on racial disparities entrenched in the school system, which are closely tied to poverty, inequality and immigration. Statistics show that black and Hispanic children enter school at a lower academic level compared with white and Asian students. They are also more likely to attend failing schools and less likely to graduate. Approximately 25% of minorities live below the poverty line with many of the poorest Hispanic children also having to deal with an uncertain legal status. 

Patricia Gandara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA told the AP that it is important to focus on the individual needs of minority children rather than developing a stronger curriculum which will "not going to get us anywhere unless we pay attention to the really basic needs of these children, things like nutrition and health and safety, and the instability of the homes.”

President Obama has announced that the My Brother's Keeper program aimed at keeping black and Hispanic boys on track will be expanded, with 60 more school districts joining the initiative to help improve the educational future of minorities starting at preschool.

The new demographic shift in American schools is said to reflect a much larger change that is coming for the country in the future. By 2043, the Census Bureau estimates our population will have more minorities than whites overall, resulting in part from higher birth rates among Hispanics and a stagnant birth rate among whites and Asians.

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.