First Time – Minority Children Majority in Public Schools


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Bill Sarno

Driven by the steady growth of a young Hispanic population, American public education this fall passed a significant milestone, one that has heightened some educators’ concern about the equity and effectiveness of the public school system.
The number of Latino, African American and Asian students in grades k-12 for the first time exceeds the non-Hispanic white population, according to data from the National Center for Education Studies.
Moreover, the current nonwhite percentage of 50.2 percent is projected to grown to nearly 55 percent in a decade. The Latino enrollment, currently 25.8 percent of the total, is growing 300,000 to 400,000 a year, according to NCES.
In Connecticut, white students are still the majority, nearly 60 percent. However, this could change not far down the road. Although Hispanics, about 14.7 percent, comprise a smaller percentage of the  population overall than on the national level, 17.1 percent,  the median age of the state’s Latinos is only 27 years, compared to 37 nationally, and 40 years of age–overall–for the median age of state’s population. In addition, Latino births represent 24 percent of all births in state.
Connecticut currently has more than 115,000 Latino children in public schools, or about 21 percent of the enrollment; in 2009-2010 it was 17.6 percent.
These enrollment trends are something public school teachers and administrators need to keep in mind, according to Nicholas Donahue, president of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, a 24-year-old organization focusing on public education in New England.
A major point of concern, says Donahue is “the socioeconomic differences that so often go hand in hand with racial differences.”
One significant difference is the availability of enrichment and consolidation opportunities, said the former New Hampshire  commissioner of education in a recent press release.
He proposes a system “takes advantage of a host of community and business partnerships that offer extended learning opportunities to students.”
The foundation has set as its goal  “increasing the college and career readiness rate of all New England learners,” which currently stands about 50 percent according to Donahue.
The situation is even “starker”  for some students particularly blacks and those learning the English language, the foundation president states.
“College enrollment among poor, black, and Latino students is at a staggering low,” he says.
What Donahue recommends is a what he calls a student-oriented system. which includes “learning that is competency-based, learning that takes place anytime and anywhere, and learning that engages students in their own success so that they own what they know.”
This is a  system, Donahue said, “that uses competency-based assessments to move students ahead to mastery of core academic competencies, rather than just pass them along with no real indication of what they have learned.”
Donahue  points to summer vacations as time when poor students, who could not attend high-end enrichment programs, lose more ground than middle-income and affluent students. The lower income students have to “get summer jobs to supplement family income, or they had to spend time babysitting younger siblings while parents were at work, or were absent.”