2.1 Diversity: The Changing Face of America’s Students

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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.

About 43% of California’s students speak a language other than English at home. Many of them have been very successful at learning English; less than 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.

English Learners

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.

Discussion Prompts:

  • 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. How has this affects the schools in your community?
  • 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?



3 Responses to “2.1 Diversity: The Changing Face of America’s Students”
  1. Arun Ramanathan says:

    A few additional stats. With 1.3 million English Learners, CA has more English Learners than the individual student populations of 38 states. With 3 millon Latino students, CA has more Latino students than the individual student populations of 48 states. 73% of CA’s public K-12 students are students of color.

    This is a massive generational change and one that should be viewed in this increasingly globalized world as a strength. In particular, if we viewed speaking multiple languages as a strength vs. a weakness and invested in it vs. trying to eliminate it, CA would be leading the nation in bi- and multi-lingualism.

    Now, based on recent census figures, we are a very different CA. Our Latino and Asian populations are growing while our White and African-American populations are either static or declining. Our population is shifting to the east vs. the more expensive west. And our students are increasingly poorer and more needy, espcially in these difficult economic times.

    In our current climate, with the stranglehold the extremes of our parties and longtime lobbyists and staffers hold on Sacramento, we are barred from the type of structural change particularly in our education system that we need to address these massive shifts and focus on the needs of children. But at very least one thing is certain – demographic change of this magnitude will promote electoral change.

  2. jeffcamp says:

    Thanks, Arun. Inside Bay Area has written some articles interpreting the new census data for the San Francisco area. http://www.insidebayarea.com/census California 2010 census data tables are available here: http://2010.census.gov/news/releases/operations/cb11-cn68.html

  3. pmuench says:

    Not that any color on its own is going to solve our problems, but I suspect that at the moment green is more equal than the rest.


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