Understanding Diversity in Our Schools

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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a report this week that summarizes the status and trends for racial and ethnic groups in our education system. Given the changing racial and ethnic composition of the U.S., it is important to understand how students from different backgrounds and cultures approach education, as well as how they are served by our education system.

One consistent shift since the beginning of the century is that the percentage of school-aged children ages 5-17 who are White is decreasing – from 62 percent of public school enrollment in 2000 to 53 percent in 2013. At the same time, the percentage who are Hispanic has increased from 16 to 24 percent. And, while they are still a small group, those students who identify as “Two or more races” has doubled from 2 to 4 percent.

Unfortunately, the percentage of children under the age of 17 who are living in poverty remains way too high and is growing for some groups. Nearly 40 percent of Black children and 30 percent of Hispanic children were living below the poverty threshold in 2013, as compared to 10 percent of Asian and White children. Sadly, Black children also saw the biggest change in rates of poverty between 2000 and 2013, increasing from 30 to 39 percent. Compounding, and likely contributing to, this high rate of Black children living in poverty is the fact that only 32 percent of them live with married parents, compared to 57 percent of Hispanic children and 73 percent of White children.

Another notable finding from this report is that Black parents are choosing charter schools in disproportionate numbers. In 2013, Black students were 28 percent of the enrollment in charter public schools, compared to 15 percent of the enrollment in traditional public schools. Clearly, when given the choice, many Black parents view charter schools as the right option for their children.

Further, in a recent survey of 1,000 parents of school-aged children, nearly two-thirds of Black parents said that they strongly favor allowing all parents to choose their child’s public school, regardless of address, with another 20 percent saying they favor it. In a similar survey, conducted by the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), 70 percent of Black parents said they support giving parents more choice options, suggesting that “they know what they want for their children and are engaged in the education reform process.”

Access to a high-quality education is a fundamental component to breaking the cycle of poverty. We should be opening more doors for parents to choose what is right for their children, rather than talking about slamming them shut.


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