Hispanic Segregation Up in Suburban Schools

AP, March 31, 2009

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The report by the Pew Hispanic Center challenges the conventional assumption that growing minority populations will create an instant “melting pot” in suburban and other districts. It raises questions about whether local school boards need to actively promote integration.

“Suburbia has changed–suburban schools are getting much more diverse,” said Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew, a Washington think tank. “But we shouldn’t assume that white suburban students as a result are interacting significantly more with nonwhites.”

The popularity of charter schools, now promoted by President Barack Obama, is a factor behind some of the segregation in grades K-12, Fry and other experts say. This is because many charter schools have special ethnic themes or offer bilingual courses, and minorities are choosing to enroll in schools with classmates of the same race.

The nation’s suburbs added 3.4 million students from 1993 to 2007, representing two-thirds of the growth in public school enrollment. Virtually all the suburban growth–99 percent–came from the addition of Hispanic, black and Asian students.

But while black and Asian students saw small gains in integration, Hispanic students were increasingly clustered at the same suburban schools. The study found their segregation was particularly evident not only in counties around Chicago, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and in Prince George’s, Md., where their population is small compared with blacks and whites, but also in Hispanic hotspots in the Los Angeles, Miami and San Diego metro areas.

Among other findings:

# White students comprised 59 percent of suburban public school enrollment, down from 72 percent in 1993. Hispanics, who now make up 20 percent of enrollment compared with 11 percent in 1993, were the primary driver of overall growth.

# Minority students tended to cluster in schools where blacks, Hispanics and Asians made up the majority of students, rather than being evenly spread among schools.

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The latest trends reflect some of the challenges ahead as public school districts educate a K-12 population that is increasingly minority.

David R. Garcia, an assistant professor of education at Arizona State University who has researched charter schools, said the dilemma of resegregation in some communities is complicated. That’s because many minorities are choosing to congregate in charter schools because of their emphasis on special needs such as Hispanic students with English-language problems.

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[Editor’s Note: The complete report “Sharp Growth in Suburban Minority Enrollment Yields Modest Gains in School Diversity,” by Richard Fry, can be read or downloaded as a PDF file here.]

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