The Changing Racial and Ethnic Composition of U.S. Public Schools

Rick Fry, The Pew Hispanic Center, August 30, 2007

The 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in June to strike down school desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville has focused public attention on the degree of racial and ethnic integration in the nation’s 93,845 public schools. A new analysis of public school enrollment data by the Pew Hispanic Center finds that in the dozen years from 1993-94 to 2005-06, white students became less isolated from minority students while, at the same time, black and Hispanic students became slightly more isolated from white students.

These two seemingly contradictory trends stem mainly from the same powerful demographic shift that took place during this period: an increase of more than 55% in the Hispanic slice of the public school population. Latinos in 2005-06 accounted for 19.8% of all public school students, up from 12.7% in 1993-94.

In part because whites now comprise a smaller share of students in the public schools, white students are now more likely to be exposed to minority students. In 1993-94, fully one-third (34%) of all white students attended a nearly all-white school (this report defines a school as “nearly all-white” if fewer than 5% of the students are non-white). By 2005-06, just one in five white students (21%) was attending a nearly all-white school.

But even as the decrease in the white share of the public school population has led to a greater exposure of white students to minority students, it has also led to a diminished exposure of black and Hispanic students to white students. Roughly three-in-ten Hispanic (29%) and black (31%) students attended schools in 2005-06 that were nearly all-minority (by this report’s definition, a “nearly all-minority” school is one in which fewer than 5% of the students are white), and these percentages were both somewhat higher than they had been in 1993-94, when they stood at 25% for Hispanic students and 28% for black students.

The report also provides detailed tabulations of school enrollment at the state level and finds that in nearly every state white students became more exposed to minority students since 1993-94. In many states Hispanic students and black students have diminished exposure to white students.

Link to the complete report: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/79.pdf

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