Schools and Students
Racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in schools offer academic and social benefits in a society where students need to work well in heterogeneous groups in school, jobs, and social settings (e.g., Coleman et al. 1966; Eaton 2001; Schofield 2001). In addition, research suggests that diversity in a school’s enrollment can help low-income and minority students increase their achievement and attainment, reduce dropout rates, and improve critical thinking skills and the ability to understand opposing viewpoints. (Syntheses of research on these topics can be found in St. John 1975; Cook 1984; Wells and Crain 1994; and Schofield 1995.) Student populations in private and public schools and in different types of private schools vary on some basic demographic measures, including race/ethnicity, limited-English proficiency (LEP) status, and the family’s socioeconomic background.
In 1999–2000, 77 percent of all private school students were White, compared with 63 percent of all public school students (figure 3). The private school sector as a whole had lower proportions of Black and Hispanic students than the public school sector as a whole, and no difference was detected between the sectors in the proportion of Asian/Pacific Islander students. Some earlier research (Greene 2001) found that individual private school students were more likely than those in public schools to be in racially mixed classrooms. Enrollment patterns in public schools more closely replicated neighborhood segregation in housing. In Catholic schools, 12 percent of students were Hispanic, a higher proportion than in the other types of private schools.
Public schools were more likely than private schools to have any minority students in 1999–2000, as well as to have high concentrations of minority students (more than 30 percent) (table 5). Although many private schools had a racially diverse student body, about 14 percent had no minority students, compared with only 4 percent of public schools. Catholic and nonsectarian schools were about as likely as public schools to have some minority students (95–96 percent of each group did), contrasted with 76 percent of other religious schools. Relatively few other religious schools had 51 percent or more minority students (15 percent), compared with Catholic (21 percent), nonsectarian (23 percent), and public schools (27 percent).
Limited-English proficient students may introduce other students to different cultures and languages and help native English speakers learn foreign languages. Nonetheless, teaching LEP students also adds complexity to educators’ tasks and creates new staffing and training challenges for schools. In 1999–2000, 13 percent of private schools had any LEP students, who accounted for an average of 7 percent of total enrollment in these schools (figure 4). In contrast, 54 percent of public schools had any LEP students, and they accounted for 10 percent of the student population on average in these schools. Private schools do not participate directly in federally funded LEP programs and so they may be less likely than public schools to identify and count the number of LEP students enrolled.
Although direct measures of SES are not readily available, the Schools and Staffing Survey collects information on the proportion of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. (The eligibility rate for the National School Lunch Program is a reasonable proxy for the incidence of school poverty in public schools but a less reliable measure in private schools. Approximately 25 percent of private school respondents in 1999–2000 did not know whether any of their students were eligible.4) Virtually all public schools (99 percent) had students eligible for subsidized lunches, about twice the percentage for private schools (49 percent) (table 6). Among schools participating in the subsidized lunch program, 42 percent of students at public schools and 10 percent at private schools, on average, were eligible.
Catholic schools were much more likely than the other two types of private schools to have any students eligible for subsidized lunches (69 percent versus 38–40 percent). Among private schools that participated in the program, nonsectarian schools had a higher average proportion of students eligible for free lunches than did Catholic and other religious schools (30, 7, and 6 percent, respectively).
4Schools that do not participate in federally funded
programs like the school lunch program are less likely to know how many students
would be eligible because the school’s funding is not affected by tracking
eligibility. (back to text)
Figures and Tables
Figure 3: Percentage distribution of students according to
race/ethnicity, by sector and private school type: 1999-2000
Figure 4: Percentage of schools serving LEP students and, in those, percentage of students who were LEP, by sector: 1999-2000
Table 5: Percentage distribution
of schools according to concentration of minority students, by sector and private
school type: 1999-2000
Table 6: Percentage of schools that has any students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and, in participating schools, the average percentage of students who were eligible, by sector and private school type: 1999-2000
Table FS3: Standard errors
for the percentage distribution of students according to race/ethnicity, by sector
and private school type: 1999-2000
Table FS4: Standard errors for the percentage of schools serving LEP students and, in those, percentage of students who were LEP, by sector: 1999-2000
Table S5: Standard errors for the percentage distribution of schools according to concentration of minority students, by sector and private school type: 1999–2000
Table S6: Standard errors for the percentage of schools that had any students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and, in participating schools, the average percentage of students who were eligible, by sector and private school type: 1999–2000