For the first time in US history, ethnic minority students make up a combined majority in the US public school system.
Despite non-Hispanic white students being the largest racial group in schools at 49.8% of all students, minorities as a whole outnumber that group, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Hispanic children make up about 25% of minority students. Black students account for 15%, and another 5% are Asian or Pacific Islanders.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the changing population a seminal moment in education. “We can’t talk about other people’s children. These are our children,” he said.
While the change will bring about many reforms within the school walls, from an increase in the number of English language classes to different menu items, it can also bring up issues of culture within society, which oftentimes are left to the schools to answer.
Many times, these issues lead to racial and ethnic tensions within the community.
Last month, an agreement was reached between Jefferson Parish public school administrators in Louisiana and the federal government, ending an investigation into discrimination within the school towards English-language learners.
Earlier this year, police were called to the scene when a fight between Hispanic and black students broke out at lunch in a suburban Chicago school.
In the case of the Kennett Consolidated School District in Pennsylvania, the tension is not so clearly labeled, but it can be seen by the number of parents who choose to send their children to a private school rather than attend a school where Hispanics make up 40% of the student body.
The minority numbers are expected to rise within schools all over the nation. In Texas, it is expected that the Hispanic students will make up two-thirds of the state’s student body by 2050.
The US population is also reflecting this move toward greater minority numbers. It is currently estimated that at least 1 in 5 children speak a language other than English at home. According to the Census Bureau, it is expected that minorities will be the majority in the US as of 2043. They attribute this change to higher Hispanic birth rates.
Despite this, schools are becoming increasingly segregated.
The average minority student will enter kindergarten at an academic disadvantage to their Asian and white peers. More often, this group will attend failing schools and harsher discipline. By high school the group on average shows lower test scores and a decreasing graduation rate.
Duncan said the disparities are unacceptable, and the country needs to make sure all students “have an opportunity to have a world class education, to do extraordinarily well.”
With about 25% of the Hispanic population living below the poverty line, it is becoming clear that schools need to do more than build a stronger curriculum to help these students succeed. Parents need to feel comfortable inside the school setting too.
“I think one thing that’s critical is that schools and PTAs and everyone just need to understand that with changing demographics, you can’t do things the way you’ve done them before,” president of the Ohio PTA Lisa Mack said. “That you have to be creative in reaching out and making them feel welcomed and valued and supported in the school system.”
There is also a clear need for more diversity among teachers, who could better understand student needs, reports Susmita Baral for The Latin Times. According to a study from the National Education Association, 82% of the 3.3 million US teachers are white.
“Whatever the root cause of the lack of diversity among the teacher workforce, one thing is clear: States and districts have not done enough to address the issue,” said Ulrich Boser, the author of the report.