White Babies No Longer Majority: Why Are Schools Not More Diverse?

BlogHer Original Post

This week the Washington Post noted for the first time in American history, white babies are no longer the majority born in the United States.

It's no surprise, considering mixed-race marriages are at an all-time high, as well.

elementary school kids

Credit Image: USDAgov on Flickr

According to the Washington Post:

As the number of white women in their 20s and 30s declined over the past decade, the number of white children dropped in most states, said Kenneth Johnson, a sociologist with the University of New Hampshire.

“The population is literally changing before us, with the youngest replacing the oldest,” he said. “This is the first tipping point. The kids are in the vanguard of the change that’s coming.”

[Editor's Note: I wrote the majority of the following post in 2009, after the last census numbers were announced. On today, this anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education, I haven't found much has changed since my initial research, though Ithaca College now has a great list of resources and additional reading regarding diversity in education. Also check out The Civil Rights Project's excellent resources. If you have any additional sources published since 2009 showing new trends resulting from increasing diversity across public schools, please leave links in the comments and I'll update this post.]

Yet despite the nature of our melting pot, many of our schools are still shockingly homogenous in the racial make-up of their student populations. I can't help but think this is not good for the future.

Even though school boards do seem to understand that diversity is important and good, they still struggle to achieve a representative mix in many major cities and suburbs. Part of the problem seems to be funding: If your neighborhood isn't diverse, your school isn't going to be, either, as long as schools are primarily funded by property tax. Then what happens once those kids move on to larger, more diverse middle and high schools with friendships already cemented? For example, in a 2009 study in Atlanta regarding why kids of different races seemed to hang only with each other, Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal Constitution online wrote:

Duncan joined 23 members of Grady’s Social Diversity Club. The education secretary listened far more than he talked, but was impressed with the students’ insightful comments about why teens tend to socialize with classmates who are similar to them. Some kids felt the racial divide had its roots in elementary and middle schools that were largely segregated due to Atlanta housing patterns.

So is the problem not enough diversity at the earliest phases of education? Should we be focusing most on diversity in preschools and elementary schools? These schools tend to be smaller and more neighborhood-based than high schools, which may be cementing early friendships within the kids' own race. Some say neighborhood schools are precisely the problem. Pam Spaulding at Pam's House Blend in North Carolina writes:

I guess the lesson here is some parents, when faced with the choice of keeping "to their own" versus the goal of exposing their children to kids of racial and class differences, self-segregation wins. That the diversity program is not optimal doesn't mean it should be abandoned; it means putting the time and work in to fix the problems.

Tarlton Guru wrote that the Chicago public school system said it uses race to balance schools.

The decision decried racial balancing in schools where race is used for magnet programs. Many of the magnets within the Chicago Schools use race as a factor in accepting students into their programs. There is one group of magnets in the Chicago Schools that selects students based completely on racially weighted lotteries. The students’ applications are sorted according to race, and then drawn in lotteries. This is meant to achieve racial diversity. Acceptance into other magnet programs is based on grades, test scores, academic achievement, and extracurricular involvement. Race is used as a minimal determining factor.


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