By Chris Arnold and Stephen Dicicco, Co-Founders of Educational Directions Inc.
Demographic trends may be the closest thing to a crystal ball that boards can use to see the future of their schools. Here’s one demographic trend that will surely impact independent schools in terms of who their potential student population is and isn’t: Public schools this fall are expected to enroll more minority students than non-Hispanic whites, which will mark the first time this has ever happened in the U.S.
“Non-Hispanic white students are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools this year at 49.8 percent. But the National Center for Education Statistics says minority students, when added together, will now make up the majority” (“White Students No Longer to Be Majority in School,” by Kimberly Hefling and Jesse J. Holland, bigstory.ap.org, Aug. 9, 2014). The majority minority student breakdown is 25 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black, and 5 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.
The shift is largely due to the higher birth rate for Hispanics, a fact that has led the Census Bureau to estimate that the population of the U.S. as a whole will have more minorities than whites in 2043; blacks, whites, and Asians have birth rates that are declining.
Although the pool of potential independent school students should include more and more minority students in years to come, the income levels for those groups suggest otherwise. “Roughly one-quarter of Hispanics and African-Americans live below the poverty line.”
Another complexity related to the increasing diversity of the population is the fact that housing patterns dictate school composition and hence population diversity is not always reflected in schools; indeed, there is concern that schools are becoming more racially segregated. Even so, in a wealthy area outside Philadelphia, the increasing diversity of public school classrooms has led some parents to send their children to independent schools, while other families embrace the public schools because of the increasingly diverse population in general.
As public schools struggle to adapt to the demographics, they face numerous challenges, including: the need to have enough minority teachers given that only 1 in 5 is a minority currently; the need to help parents feel at home in the school setting; the need to address language barriers, given that 20% of schoolchildren speak a language other than English at home.