"600 Words by Esther J. Cepeda"
People bashful that they moved out to the suburbs for the better school systems often defend their actions (as if they needed to) by remarking that their child's classroom is a mini-United Nations.
"You should see Krystyn's school," they gush, "there are Japanese kids, and African kids, and Indian kids – it's so diverse!"
Sure, although that depends on what you consider "diverse."
Some people would imagine that a school district sporting a whopping 67% minority count would be offering their kids an education that celebrates the actual make-up of the population it serves, and providing their children with the kinds of experiences with people from different ethnic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds that will help them thrive in "the real world."
They'd be wrong.
According to a report the Pew Hispanic Center released today, though the student population of America's suburban public schools has shot up by 3.4 million in the past decade and a half – and virtually all of this increase (99%) has been due to the enrollment of new Latino, black and Asian students – there has been only a modest increase in the racial and ethnic diversity of student populations at the level of the individual suburban school.
The backgrounder for the report says: "For example, in 2006-07, the typical white suburban student attended a school whose student body was 75% white; in 1993-94, this same figure had been 83%.
So at a time when the white share of student enrollment in suburban school districts was falling by 13 percentage points (from 72% in 1993-94 to 59% in 2006-07), the exposure of the typical white suburban student to minority students in his or her own school was growing by a little more than half that much-or 8 percentage points."
This is not big news to me. It is a well-documented fact that African American students tend to be labeled as "Special Education" students and shunted off to "special" classes – at a rate of DOUBLE their white counterparts (Current statistics indicate that African American boys represent only 9% of the total student enrollment in public schools, yet in the category of mental retardation their enrollment percentage is more than double 20%).
Then we can move right along to Hispanics who are also often misdiagnosed as being special education students when, in fact, they have difficulties due to second language acquisition. Or they're simply shoved off into "bilingual classes" where a modified curriculum is presented in Spanish under the guise of "transitioning" the students into English-language classes, a day that rarely comes for too many students.
The numbers say that the presence of minority students in the suburban schools attended by whites (25%) is much lower than the overall representation of minority students in suburban school districts (41%).
The net effect is that even though suburban school districts are experiencing unprecedented growth in their minority populations they are not integrated into the schools districts, depriving them, and their classmates of valuable experiences with people who come from different backgrounds. Check this out:
In 2006-07, the typical suburban black student attended a school that was 44% black, up from 43% black in 1993-94
In 2006-07, the typical suburban Asian student attended a school that was 23% Asian, down from 24% Asian in 1993-94.
Suburban Hispanic student isolation has significantly increased: in 2006-07, the typical suburban Hispanic student attended a school that was 49% Hispanic, an increase from 42% Hispanic in 1993-94.
What's weird is that this is not an area anyone has put much attention on, probably because the numbers, as they so often are, are deceptive.
The Pew Hispanic Center's Report notes that, "The movement of minority students into suburban schools has had the overall effect of slightly reducing levels of ethnic and racial segregation throughout the nation's 93,430 public schools.
Minority students on average are less segregated in suburban school districts compared with city school districts, so the shift toward suburban school districts tends to reduce national segregation levels."
That these students are less segregated in suburban school districts than they are in city school districts is good, but certainly not great. We can do better.
But we don't. I can tell you from experience, as a teacher in two different suburban school districts, both experiencing large population shifts, that there is tremendous fear of African-American and Hispanic children in schools.
The administrators of and community-elected representatives on schools boards across the collar counties of Chicago are simply not adequately prepared to deal with the influx of students representing wildly different cultural and background experiences that have arrived in the past ten to twelve years. But they must.
And the parents of these children can not wait until school administrators see the light, they must make their voices heard at school board meetings, in principals' offices and in their local media.
Their message: we're here, we're not leaving, and our children deserve the same quality education as Caucasian students – in integrated classrooms.
Esther J. Cepeda writes the "600 Words" & "Pregunta del Dia" columns, and is also the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her views and reporting do not necessarily reflect those of ISAC. "600 words" is a registered trademark of EeJayCee, Inc., Copyright 2008. May be reprinted with permission, contact firstname.lastname@example.org