Education

Race? (Check All That Apply)

By Liana Loewus — March 23, 2009 1 min read

For multiracial students and their parents, the “check-one-box” directions on school registration forms have historically posed a problem. Under a new federal mandate, public schools will increase the accuracy of their data-gathering by allowing students to identify with more than one race, reports the Washington Post.

The Education Department’s new rules will go into effect for all students in 2010, though the change is now mandated for newly enrolled students nationwide.

But not everyone is thrilled about changes to the labeling and counting process. Members of the NAACP, among other groups, are concerned about how the new data will be used. “This will make our whole education system look different, and nobody will know whether we are going forward or backward,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California in Los Angeles. Melissa Herman, a sociologist at Dartmouth College, worries that the aggregate numbers reported to the government, which will identify some students under the category of “two or more races,” will mask valuable data. “If we don’t know that some multiracial, Hispanic, and black students are doing worse, we can conveniently ignore that they are doing worse.”

However, the policy shift comes as a relief for many families. Shelley Bryant, the mother of a 2nd grader at Lake Anne Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia, where 14 percent of students identify as more than one ethnicity, said, “I want my kids to know they are biracial. We say . . .'we took a mixture of Mommy and Daddy and made you.’” Mary Ann Dawedeit, a white mother from Maryland, is glad she no longer has to choose one race when filling out forms for her three sons, whose father is black. “You have to honor both parents’ backgrounds. It’s hard to check one box.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.