2.1 The Changing Face of America’s Students
The changing American melting-pot blends people from all over the world.
California has the largest and most diverse student population in America. About 6 million students attend California public K-12 schools. Another half a million or so attend private schools. In rough terms, our state has about half a million students in each grade level. To provide for their education, more than 300,000 teachers work in about 10,000 schools in about 1,000 districts across the state.
About half of California’s students are Latino. In a quarter of a century, the state’s K-12 schools added more than 2 million Latino students, accounting for virtually all of the growth in California enrollment.
Non-Latino white students make up about 26% of the state student body. Most of the remaining students are Asian (9%), African-American (7%), or Filipino (3%). About 3% of California students associate themselves with none of the above. California’s large urban districts educate students from virtually every culture and linguistic background on the planet.
43% of California’s students speak a language other than English at home. Many of them have been very successful at learning English; only a quarter of California’s students are “English Language Learners” (abbreviated EL or ELL), which means that they speak another language and have not yet achieved functional fluency in English.
In 1982 the US Supreme Court ruled in Pyler vs. Doe that immigration status cannot serve as a condition for enrollment in American public schools. Access to public education is open to all resident students, regardless of immigration status. This right of access includes higher education; Assembly Bill 540 extended in-state tuition benefits to all residents. After about a decade of litigation, in 2010 this policy was upheld by a unanimous ruling of the state Supreme Court.
Statistics regarding the immigration status of California’s students and their families are imprecise. The biggest changes in California demographics have been driven by immigration from Mexico and Latin America. Undocumented students make up perhaps a tenth of California public school enrollment.
- If people in your community were asked to estimate the demographics of California’s students, how close would they be to correct?
- The demographics of California’s schools have changed dramatically since 1970. Could the state’s apparently slow rate of academic improvement be a “Simpson’s Paradox?”
- Education statistics rarely include private schools, and often omit charter schools. How many students does that represent in your community?
Next: Poverty and Race – 2.2 Are Students in Poverty Poor Students?