Enrollment for students of color on the rise

JAZELLE HUNT | 9/8/2014, 10:28 a.m.
As the nation’s families head back to school, they may notice that for the first time, elementary and middle school ...
Dorraun Stewart heads to class on the first day of school at the new Billy Earl Dade Middle School near Fair Park, Aug. 26. Louis DeLuca, DMN

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the nation’s families head back to school, they may notice that for the first time, elementary and middle school students of color will equal the percentage of White students, according to Department of Education projections.

White student enrollment has steadily declined, as have birth rates among White families. Hispanic American students have, and will continue to have, the largest presence in public elementary and middle schools. Asian and multiracial student populations have also grown in that time, although much more modestly.

In recent years, Black public school enrollment has remained steady at around 17 or 18 percent of all students. It began to decline in 2006, falling to 15.3 percent of all K-8 public school students in 2011. That’s the most recent actual enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics; but the Department of Education predicts Black enrollment continued to decline in 2012 and 2013, will plateau for the next few years, and will begin rising again in 2017.

This year’s “majority-minority” demographic shift is speculation for now – the Department of Education won’t have the actual enrollment figures for fall 2014 until at least 2016. Still, it is a matter of when – not if – schools will be the first sector of society to reflect changing American demographics.

But it doesn’t seem as though public education is in-step with the nation’s steady transformation.

“What’s concerning to me as a consultant is that we have an increasing student population of color and declining percentages of teachers of color,” said Jawanza Kunjufu, a Chicago-based education consultant and author. “Unfortunately, most school districts have one to three days of training for teachers, and most of that is not around multicultural training.”

Less than 7 percent of the nation’s public school teachers are Black. Taken together, teachers of color are only 18 percent.

Kunjufu says that some university education programs, particularly those in urban areas, are attempting to prepare incoming, mostly-White teachers for classroom diversity. But this alone may not be enough to create effective schools that reflect their students.

“We’re looking at 2014 when students are going to be 50 percent White and 50 percent non-white, but the curriculum is still Eurocentric. The learning styles are still more left-brained. We still have tracking – the AP, honors, gifted and talented, and IB classes are still predominantly White and Asian,” he explained.

Discrimination also remains a problem, despite increased diversity. In fact, earlier this year, the Department of Justice stepped in to issue a set of school disciplinary policy guidelines in line with civil rights law. The guidelines were in response to widespread suspensions of Black students of all ages, and also in response to increased law enforcement in school settings.

Under-qualified teachers often end up in Black and brown schools, the same schools that are often underfunded. And there aren’t enough teachers to go around for English-language-learning students. In 2012 there were 4.4 million public school students enrolled in ELL programs, or 9.2 percent of all children. There are only 51,000 ESL/bilingual elementary school teachers – or, a national ratio of one bilingual teacher for every 86 ELL students.