September 2010

Racial Demographics and Education Trends

 

The National Center for Educational Statistics recently published a report titled “Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups,” which is a must read for anyone interested in the state of education.  It highlights some positive trends and some challenges that still exist, and looks at the demographic changes in the U.S. (Titled "The Reality of Back to School: Back to What?" in print version.)

 

Minority-AffairsIt’s “back to school” time. This can be heard in many settings all over the country at this time of the year, and it means different things to different people. A kindergartener preparing for his or her first day of school and a ninth grader getting ready for the first day of high school may both have images of new beginnings. Whereas a college senior, preparing for post-baccalaureate studies, may have images of an end.

For some people, “back to school” conjures up positive images like a new classroom, new classmates, new teachers and new school supplies. And, while some people find this time of the year exciting, only a few of them are looking forward to science and math. Unfortunately, these subjects continue to lag behind other subjects that excite students. In fact, many students approach learning science and math like they do taking medicine; they “swallow while holding their nose.” 

We all understand that in order to succeed in this changing global economy, students have to be well trained in science and math.  So, perhaps “back to school” should be a time for scientists to think about how to keep the younger generation interested and engaged in these subjects.  But, in order to do that, we must reflect on successes and failures and think about the needs of the next generation as they relate to education.

The National Center for Educational Statistics recently published a report titled “Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups” (1). The 181-page congressionally mandated document is a must-read for anyone interested in the state of education. It highlights some positive trends and some challenges that still exist, and looks at the demographic changes in the U.S. So, what can those of us in higher education learn from this report?

Racial Demographics

The NCES study found that the racial demographics of the country have significantly changed in the past 20 years, becoming more diverse. The report states that from 1980 to 2008, we have seen a shift in the percentage of our racial composition, with the Hispanic population expanding the fastest, experiencing an increase from 6.4 percent of the population in 1980 to 15.4 percent in 2008. The Caucasian population has seen a decline from 80 percent to 66 percent, while the Black population remains at 12 percent. The data also suggest that the trend will continue in the future. If this is true, and nonwhite ethnic groups will comprise the majority of our population in the near future, then our educational plans also must change to meet their needs as well.

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