Demographic Challenges Ahead For Schools, Study Warns

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A report intended as an alert to education leaders says that in the next decade, the U.S. population of elderly and racial and ethnic minorities will grow rapidly, posing challenges of critical importance to schools.

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Copies of "Secondary Schools in a New Millennium" are available for $12 for members, $15 for non-members, by calling (800) 253-7746. A summary will be available at

Releasing the study last week, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals urged school decisionmakers to "be more visionary" in planning for the future.

"The future belongs to those who prepare for it," Gerald N. Tirozzi said.

The report—commissioned by the NASSP, researched by demographer Harold L. Hodgkinson, and underwritten by the Kansas City, Mo.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation—lays out demographic trends that will have a significant impact on schools. It paints a picture of an increasingly aging, diverse, and suburban population.

Using projections from the last U.S. Census, Mr. Hodgkinson predicted that in the next 10 years the population of Americans under age 18 will grow by 1.7 million, and that the numbers of people 18 to 44 will decrease by 1.2 million. But the 45-to-64 age group will grow by 17 million, and the 65-and-over group will increase by 4.6 million, the report says. By 2025, 27 states are expected to have populations in which at least 20 percent of residents are 65 or older, it points out.

That "graying of America" could pose difficulties for school leaders because the elderly, who vote more often than younger citizens, are often more reluctant to approve bond issues for school projects.

Education leaders would do well to convey to older citizens that support for their schools benefits them, possibly by creating "community schools" that offer the elderly services such as Meals on Wheels and by drawing them in as volunteers, the report suggests. Perhaps if older Americans understand that they will depend increasingly on a shrinking base of taxpayers to support them in old age, they will be more inclined to support their schools, said Mr. Hodgkinson, the director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Demographic Policy and a prominent expert on demography and education.

Term 'Minority' Obsolete?

Projections also show that the greatest demographic growth in the next decade will be among Hispanics, whose population is expected to surpass that of African-Americans by 2010, and by Asians, the report says. While the white population is expected to grow by 5.3 million, the minority population—a term Mr. Hodgkinson suggested be abandoned because of near-obsolescence—is projected to gain 17.7 million, due largely to immigration and larger family size.

That trend should raise questions about schools' readiness to handle the increasing numbers of students who will come to school not speaking English, said Mr. Tirozzi of the NASSP, who has also served as an assistant secretary of education in the Clinton administration and as the Connecticut state schools chief. Facing such projections, administrators and lawmakers cannot simply reject bilingual education, he contended.

"We have our heads in the sand if we don't understand the implications of this," he said. "The real debate is about how we are going to provide the teachers, curriculum, and services to these kids."

Before rushing to build new schools, Mr. Hodgkinson suggested, districts should recognize that in the next decade, the population of children from birth to age 5 will shrink and the greatest gains—12 percent to 15 percent—will be among those in the middle and high school age group. Combined with Americans' increasing tendency to live farther away from cities, those trends suggest that the greatest demand for school construction in the long term will be in the "exurbs"—where developers are now buying farmland to build housing developments.

In a country that is highly transient—43 million Americans move each year—educators must devise academic standards that are consistent from place to place so that students can work toward the same goals no matter what school they attend, Mr. Tirozzi argued. And in a culture and marketplace that are increasingly global, he said, schools must provide a "world curriculum" that reflects changing realities.

"We must think differently and act differently," Mr. Tirozzi said. "It can't be the same old status quo."

Vol. 19, Issue 32, Page 10

Published in Print: April 19, 2000, as Demographic Challenges Ahead For Schools, Study Warns
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