Enrollment in public schools hit an all-time high in 2003, surpassing the record set in 1970, the federal government reported last week, while the West has become the first region where students from minority groups outnumber white students in public schools.
Nationwide, according to the federal government’s latest annual compilation of education statistics, overall enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools surged to 49.5 million in 2003, surpassing a record of 48.7 million schoolchildren set in 1970.
“The Condition of Education 2005,” released last week, notes that as of 2003, minority students represented 54 percent of public school students in the 13 Western states. Non-Hispanic white students, in comparison, made up 46 percent of the public school enrollment in that part of the country.
Driven primarily by a growing population of Latino students, the West’s shifting demographics come as minority enrollments are increasing across the nation. The proportion of minority students in U.S. schools grew from 22 percent in 1972 to 42 percent in 2003, the latest year the study tracks.
“This illustrates why we’re focusing so much time and energy on closing the achievement gap among students,” U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said last week in a press release.
Nationwide, Hispanic students, who may be of any race, made up 19 percent of public school enrollment in 2003. African-American students were 16 percent of the public school population.
Those figures were among 40 indicators contained in the report. The study also notes that the percentage of school-age children who speak a language other than English at home rose from 9 percent in 1979 to 19 percent in 2003, and that Spanish was the language most commonly spoken in those households.
On private school enrollment, the report also shows that while Roman Catholic school enrollments shrank from 1989-90 to 2001-02, the proportion of private school students attending other religious schools, such as conservative Christian schools, grew from 32 percent to 36 percent.