As students head back to school this week, they may find themselves playing a part in a historic change. This fall, minority students are expected to outnumber white students in the nation’s public schools for the first time, according to a report
by the Pew Research Center.
While much has been made of the demographic change under way in the nation’s population and electorate, we are now seeing how that shift is occurring.
In 1997, the US had more than 46 million children in public schools, and more than 63 percent of them were white. Since then, however, the number of white students has declined by 15 percent, according to Pew.
During that same period, enrollment of Hispanic and Asian students in particular has increased. According to the report, the number of Hispanic students has nearly doubled since 1997.
The research brings up several concerns. Private school education continues to serve a mainly white student population, and there is growing pressure to provide government funding for those schools — which could mean less funding for public schools.
And as the nation’s public school system continues to experience highly politicized changes and funding cuts, the demographic shift has created a need for more instruction in subjects such as English, as well as greater diversity in teaching staff. The cultural experience represented in the nation's textbooks and teaching aids will also need to change to connect with non-white students.
And probably most important: while white students are still the single largest student group, the nation’s children are at the epicenter of a demographic shift that has huge economic and political implications. Our national policies related to housing, health care, and education are going to adapt to meet their needs.