Hispanic children the fastest growing numbers in US public schools system

Growth in number of Hispanic children has created a historic demographic shift

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 4:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 6:52am


For the first time, US public schools are projected this autumn to have more minority students than non-Hispanic whites, a shift largely fuelled by growth in the number of Hispanic children.

The changing demographics of education are apparent inside Jane Cornell's summer school classroom in Pennsylvania's wealthiest county, where many come from homes where Spanish is the primary language. The sign outside the classroom reads "Welcome" and "Bienvenidos".

Non-Hispanic white students are still expected to be the largest racial group in public schools this year at 49.8 per cent, but according to the National Centre for Education Statistics, minority students, when combined, make up the majority.

About one-quarter of students are Hispanic, 15 per cent black and 5 per cent are Asian and Pacific islanders. Bi-racial students and Native Americans make up an even smaller share of the minority student population.

The shift brings new realities, such as the need for more English-language instruction, and cultural ones, such as changing menus to reflect tastes.

But it also raises complex societal questions that often fall to school systems to address, including immigration, poverty, diversity and inequity.

The result, at times, is racial tension. In Louisiana in July, Jefferson Parish public school reached an agreement with the government to end an investigation into discrimination against English-language learners.

In May, police had to break up a fight between Hispanic and black students at a school in Streamwood, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, after a racially based lunchroom brawl got out of control.

Issues of race and ethnicity in schools also can be more subtle.

In Pennsylvania's Kennett Consolidated School District, Superintendent Barry Tomasetti said some families actually sought out the district's diverse schools "because they realise it's not a homogenous world out there".

The change in the district from mostly middle-to-upper class white to about 40 per cent Hispanic was driven in part 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.

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 also 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.