The Uneven Spread and Blurring of Student Diversity


Most educational leaders realize that student racial diversity in American schools has increased, is increasing and will continue to increase. For the first time, the Census 2000 will track some of these changes by allowing people to indicate mixed racial/ethnic identity. (It likely will show at least three million youth in this country are of mixed ancestry.)

Yet few educational leaders are aware that:


  • increased diversity is concentrated in a small number of counties and states; and



  • young people today are less conscious of "race" in making friendships, etc.


    The Nature of Diversity
    Two factors--immigration and differential fertility--serve to increase diversity.


  • Immigration. Nearly 85 percent of immigrants today come from non-European countries (mostly from Asia and South and Central America).



  • Differential fertility. The average black female gets pregnant 5.1 times over her lifetime and gives birth to 2.6 children, while the white female gets pregnant only 2.8 times and gives birth to only 1.7 children, not enough to replace the white population. (Indeed, whites in the world--only about 14 percent of the world's 5.9 billion people--are unable to maintain current population levels with current birth rates.) What this means for schools can be seen in the table below from Kids Count 1997.

    The table shows:



  • a decline in the number of white children will continue past 2005;



  • a large increase in the number of Hispanics over the next 10 years, making them more numerous than blacks, an irreversible change, given immigration and differential fertility;



  • smaller increases among the younger populations, including an actual decline in the youngest (preschool) children, all of which is white, plus the end of the increases that the U.S. Department of Education describes as "Tidal Wave II," even though only five states have increases of 20 percent through 2007.


    By 2020, half of all U.S. students ages 0-18 will be non-white. By 2050, half of all Americans will be "minority." Hispanics and Asians will account for 61 percent of U.S. population growth between 1995 and 2025--44 percent Hispanic and 17 percent Asian.

    Uneven Spread
    But this diversity will be absorbed by a small number of areas. Only 300 counties of our 3,068--10 percent--will have the vast majority of these increases. Even today, only 10 states have 90 percent of the country's Hispanic population, and only three metropolitan areas--San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York--have 46 percent of all Asian Americans. California alone will add 12 million Hispanics and 6 million Asians by 2025, while Texas and Florida will add 8 million Hispanics.

    The vast majority of African Americans live in only 10 percent of the land mass--the south Atlantic states and the Mississippi delta. (Small immigration rates keep their future numbers down.) Even Native Americans will go from 2 million to 3.4 million by 2010, largely not by births or immigration, but because it is more socially acceptable today to claim that all or part of your heritage is Native American.

    The uneven distribution of these minority populations will create a new class of problems: Children in Maine and North Dakota in 2050 will live in a nation without a racial majority, but in their schools they will have little chance to interact with what we call "minorities" today. Diversity training is fine, but in about 35 states, schools will have no one to practice on. This unevenness of diversity in our schools has yet to be seen as a major policy issue.

    Racial Identity and Diffusion
    The second concern is the most difficult. Although race has major importance politically, economically and historically, it is scientific nonsense. The U.S. Census is the world's largest public opinion poll. If you say you're black, you're black, even though the darkest 20 percent of the "white" population is darker in skin color than the lightest 20 percent of the "black" population.

    Every major magazine and newspaper has done articles on the large number of Americans of mixed ethnic ancestry, including celebrities from Tiger Woods (a Cablinasian-Caucasian/black/Native American/Asian) to Soledad O'Brien (black/Cuban/white). In fact, we always have "melted" by marrying someone of a different racial/ethnic background. Only about 15 percent of European Americans today are a German married to a German, a Pole married to a Pole, yet in 1900 an Irish-Italian marriage would have been considered miscegenation.

    Today, 35 percent of children of Hispanic immigrants are marrying non-Hispanics, while 50 percent of the children of Asian immigrants are marrying non-Asians, and half of Native American marriages are to non-Native Americans. The numbers are understated, but at least 10 percent of African-Americans have married non-Africans, including 3 million black Hispanics plus many whites. Several Jewish organizations have indicated their No. 1 concern is the number of Jewish children who are marrying outside the faith. Farmers sell the family farm because children no longer want to live that life. Diffusion is the order of the day.

    New Definition of Equity
    This is a curious time in American racial and ethnic relations. Race is as visible as ever in our politics and economics, yet the physical traits that represent race are blurring at great speed. The increase in diversity will be contained almost completely in only 300 of our 3,068 counties, and young people seldom behave as if race guided their friendships and behavior.

    A Gallup survey in 1995 shows that 80 percent of blacks said they had a good white friend in 1990 and 67 percent of whites said they had a good black friend. In addition, a recent survey by UCLA professor Alexander Astin showed that 75 percent of college freshmen did something social with a person of another race in the previous week.

    It may be time to consider a new definition of equity. Being black is no longer a universal handicap. More than 20 percent of black households now have a higher income than the white average. But being poor is a universal handicap. Now that racial integration is emerging as a mixed success, it may be time to turn our full attention to economic injustice.

    Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was a highly targeted program aimed at school districts with the highest percentage of low-income children, regardless of their race. (Like all federal programs, it has become a political cash cow, and today virtually every school district in the nation gets Title I money. Yet the original goal, like Head Start, was a form of economic desegregation.)

    Another example comes from the Kentucky legal case in which poor rural districts sued the state over their inability to spend as much money per student as Louisville could. The court agreed and ordered economic desegregation, an income floor under every single student in Kentucky schools, which provided a more equal chance for educational success for students in low-income districts, regardless of their race. The Hope Scholarships in Georgia are also organized in this mode of leveling the economic playing field.

    The Census 2000 will begin to present the true nature of racial mixing in the United States, and will likely reveal that economic differences between the richest and poorest Americans continue to increase. In hundreds of places, people of many races now live together in a community that respects them all. But I know no place in which rich and poor live together as neighbors.

    The ethical issues here are huge, but few would disagree with the idea that all children should be able to knock on the kindergarten door with a bag of assets that basically will be similar to all the others. Yet while racial lines are blurring and only 10 percent of our counties will cover most of the increased diversity by race, economic inequities are as clear as ever and are more evenly spread. America's schools are the key vehicle for restoring equity, and economic equity will become the only major target around.

    Harold (Bud) Hodgkinson is director of the Center for Demographic Policy, 1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 310, Washington, DC 20036.