Equity & Diversity

Limited Number of Schools Absorb Latinos

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 10, 2006 3 min read
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Hispanic children account for nearly two-thirds of the recent growth in school enrollment, but most of that increase has been absorbed by a small proportion of the nation’s schools, says a report released last week by the Pew Hispanic Center.

The pattern is true not only in states that have historically received Latino immigrants, such as New York and Texas, but also in such states as Georgia and North Carolina that are new to taking in large numbers of Hispanic students.

“The Changing Landscape of American Public Education: New Students, New Schools” is posted by the Pew Hispanic Center.

“A small subset of schools experienced a lot of Hispanic enrollment changes,” Richard Fry, a senior researcher at the Pew Hispanic Center and the author of the report, said during a telephone press briefing Oct. 5. “The changes in those schools are markedly different than for the rest of the schools in American public education.”

Mr. Fry found in his study, “The Changing Landscape of American Public Education: New Students, New Schools,” that about 3,400 of the nation’s public schools that were around by the early 1990s have been affected in a big way by the nationwide growth in Hispanic enrollment, but that most other longtime public schools have not.

‘Mistakes of the Past’

In particular, most public schools that primarily enrolled non-Hispanic white students before the huge influx of Hispanic students in the early 1990s changed very little in their racial or ethnic composition from the 1993-94 school year to the 2002-03 school year, the decade that Mr. Fry examined.

“It looks like we are still seeing the mistakes of the past,” said Melissa Lazarín, the senior policy analyst for education reform for the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group based in Washington, in response to the report’s findings.

“What’s bad is that predominantly minority schools will be the schools that don’t get the nice facilities, the resources, the highly qualified teachers,” she said. “It means segregation of resources, not just students.”

Andre Guerrero, the director of programs for language-minority students for the Arkansas education department, said that enrollment trends in his state match some of those found in the Pew study identified as “new settlement states” for Hispanics. Latino families, mostly from Mexico, have been attracted to particular communities in Arkansas for jobs in the food-processing and lumber industries, he said.

“We probably have 10 or 12 districts absorbing the Hispanic student population out of 225 districts,” he said.

Existing vs. New

In general, the study found that the schools absorbing most of the increase in Hispanic enrollment are larger, have more students on federal subsidies, and have bigger pupil-teacher ratios than schools that have not seen a significant growth in the number of Hispanic students.

Mr. Fry analyzed data provided by a census of all schools by the U.S. Department of Education. He found that K-12 enrollment increased by 4.7 million children during the decade he studied, and that Hispanics accounted for 3 million of those children, or 64 percent. His report tells about the kinds of schools in which those Latino children ended up.

As well as dividing schools into categories of being located in “traditional Hispanic states” and new-settlement states, Mr. Fry divided schools into categories of “existing” or “new.” Existing schools are those that were already operating before the 1993-94 school year, and new schools are those that opened during the decade that followed.

Enrollment Patterns

Hispanic students moved into existing schools in large numbers from the 1993-94 to the 2002-03 school years, while non-Hispanic white students enrolled in new schools.

*Click image to see the full chart.


Note: Data are from all states and the District of Columbia except for Tennessee and Idaho.

SOURCE: Pew Hispanic Center

Most of the 3 million Hispanic students were enrolled in existing schools, according to the report. That trend was even more pronounced in new-settlement states than in traditional Hispanic states, Mr. Fry noted.

He explained that older schools tend to be larger and much more likely than new schools to be eligible for federal Title I aid for disadvantaged students, which signals they are less affluent than new schools.

“Larger schools tend to have slightly lower student achievement. They have higher dropout rates,” Mr. Fry added.

Michael E. Fix, the vice president of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, said Mr. Fry has broken new ground in his study in looking at whether Hispanic students tend to be enrolled in older schools or new schools.

“The question it proposes is, ‘What’s the link between the age of school and the quality of instruction?’ ” Mr. Fix said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 2006 edition of Education Week as Limited Number of Schools Absorb Latinos

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