Itís August, the time many K-12 students across the country have started filling up classrooms, with many more joining them over the next few weeks. For those that are attending public schools, many will be unaware of some of the new challenges that await their teachers and administrators. Many states are in full swing of the Common Core curriculum that has been the subject of controversy. Others will be attending schools that are suffering from continued cuts in funding while charter schools continue to expand.
Also, the majority of these students will not be white.
For the first time, American public schools will have more minority students than white students. This reflects the projected demographic shift for America, which expects a minority majority within the next 30 years, fueled in large part by the increase in Hispanic children. As a racial group, non-Hispanic whites are still the largest individual racial group in public schools and America. However, the combined total of Hispanic, African-American and Asian students, along with bi-racial students, makes minorities a slight majority in public schools.
How this looks in individual schools obviously depends on geography and economic background. The areas that see the biggest changes are fueled by the migration of workers, mainly Hispanic, to factories or surrounding farms. School choice also plays into the makeup. Some parents embrace diversity and choose to place their children in a predominately minority school, while others will choose private schools, which tend to be less diverse.
Still, the new student body could have far reaching implications.
The change in demographics presents new challenges to school officials. For those with immigrant populations where the primary language is not English, schools need to hire translators for parent-teacher conferences. They also have to deal with children that are still learning English, and are often starting school further behind their peers. Even things as simple as school lunches might need to be reassessed for the cultural needs of the student body.
Aside from culture and language issues, the inherent biases on behalf of teachers will also come into play. A recent study showed an alarming rate of civil rights violations against students of color. They were most likely to be the victims of zero tolerance policies. Minority children get suspended or expelled more often than white students, as well, starting as early as preschool.
Conservative politicians have been trying to defund and destroy public education for nearly thirty years. They have continually cut funding as well as promoted ďEnglish onlyĒ initiatives in response to increasing immigrant populations.† This summer, a school district in Louisiana reached a settlement with federal investigators over discrimination against English learners.
The No Child Left Behind Act links funding for schools to performance, which is measured by test scores. The Obama administration has allowed for some flexibility for schools that have agreed to develop new innovative ways to improve studentsí learning experiences, which allows for a multi-year waiver period to show improvement. This is why many schools have adopted the Common Core standards.
Even with these initiatives, however, test scores are still a part in determining future funding.
As schools focus on raising test scores, the needs of the students are often overlooked. If a large portion of the student body has language issues, school scores are going to go down. It is difficult for a student to understand things like sarcasm or certain metaphors in literature, for example, when itís not their first language. This is not to say the students canít catch up, but it may take extra work and time to do so.
Itís time and money schools donít have.
As the student body begins to reflect the future demographics of America, school is where their socialization will begin. This could be a wonderful opportunity to embrace the diversity America claims is its greatest attribute. For schools, it will no longer be enough to just focus on curriculum. They will need to adjust and focus on the needs of their students and their families. They will have to focus on the whole student, not just their mind.
The future is here. The question is, are we ready for it?
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