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Surge in Hispanic Student Enrollment Predicted

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By 2030, nearly one in four school-age children in the United States will likely be of Hispanic origin, a new report from the U.S. Bureau of the Census predicts.

The report shows that Hispanics will make up 24.5 percent of the overall U.S. population by 2050. But the high birthrate among Hispanics means the growth in the Hispanic population will be even faster among people age 18 and under, and thus will be seen in school enrollments well before the midcentury mark.

The first such projection issued since 1993, the report also foresees a sharp increase in the percentage of Asian-Americans.

The percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the country's school-age population will fall below 50 percent for the first time in history between 2030 and 2040, the Census Bureau figures show.

The projections released this month strengthened the view of many educators that the nation's education system will need major retooling to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

"We continue to prepare teachers for nonexistent students: middle-class students who speak English and have plenty of resources at home," said Maria Robledo Montecel, the executive director of the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonprofit education-research and training organization based in San Antonio.

Even if immigration ceased, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population would jump from about 10 percent to about 18 percent by 2050, according to Census Bureau projections. The agency defines the term Hispanic as anyone of Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

The Future Is Now

"These trends are so substantial, it would take tremendous social changes to stop them," said Gregory Spencer, the chief of the population-projections branch at the bureau. Mr. Spencer's projections assume a continuation of the current annual immigration rate of about 820,000 people.

The U. S. House last week approved tougher measures dealing with illegal aliens, but opted against greater restrictions on legal immigration. In another vote last week, the lawmakers approved a measure to allow states to deny a free public education to illegal-immigrant children. (See story, page 24.)

Hispanic students already make up the largest ethnic category in the schools of some of the nation's biggest cities.

In Texas, demographic shifts over the past 10 years have left districts scrambling for bilingual teachers and other resources to serve an influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants.

"The toughest part is the teacher shortage, but we have to also do an enormous amount of staff development with teachers just to catch up," said Jos‚ Hernandez, the Houston schools' assistant superintendent for special programs.

The Houston district needs about 300 more teachers for its English-as-a-second-language programs, he said, and immigration has swelled enrollments at some schools to nearly double their capacity.

Troubling Dropout Rates

A chief concern among many advocates for Hispanic students is the dropout rate, a problem experts say could grow worse if the population growth is not met with additional resources.

"What is ironic is that as the Hispanic population continues to grow, we are seeing a decline in the availability of bilingual services," said Ms. Robledo Montecel.

Nationwide, about 33 percent of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 were high school dropouts in 1993, according to a recent report from the Institute for Educational Leadership, a Washington-based think tank.

Ms. Robledo Montecel said schools need more programs that will encourage greater parental involvement among Hispanics, discourage the tracking of Hispanic students into nonacademic programs, and increase participation of such families in preschool programs.

Only about 17 percent of 3- and 4-year-old Hispanic children in the United States enter preschool programs or kindergarten, compared with about 30 percent for blacks and about 34 percent for whites of the same age, according to the U.S. Education Department.

While the census projections have focused attention on the growing Hispanic school-age population, the number of Asian-American students is also expected to climb rapidly, from about 4 percent now to about 9 percent in 2050.

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