For the first time ever, U.S. public schools are projected this fall to have more minority students than non-Hispanic whites enrolled, a shift largely fueled by growth in the number of Hispanic children.
Non-Hispanic white students are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools this year at 49.8 percent. But the National Center for Education Statistics says minority students, when added together, will now make up the majority.
About one-quarter of the minority students are Hispanic, 15 percent are black and 5 percent are Asian and Pacific Islanders. Biracial students and Native Americans make up a smaller share of the minority student population.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the changing population a seminal moment in education. “We can’t talk about other people’s children. These are our children,” he said.
The shift creates new academic realities, such as the need for more English language instruction, and cultural ones, meaning changes in school lunch menus to reflect students’ tastes.
But it also brings some complex societal questions that often fall to school systems to address, including issues of immigration, poverty, diversity and inequity.
The result, at times, is racial and ethnic tension.
In Louisiana in July, Jefferson Parish public school administrators reached an agreement with the federal government to end an investigation into discrimination against English language learners.