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Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2007-039
September 2007

Indicator 7: Elementary and Secondary Enrollment

Examining patterns in elementary and secondary enrollment, and the characteristics of schools and students, with a focus on minority students, helps to illustrate the educational experiences of these students. Indicator 7.1 looks at school enrollment in the four major types of locales (central city, urban fringe, town, and rural) by race/ethnicity. Indicator 7.2 compares the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of the racial/ethnic composition of public school enrollment. Indicator 7.3 profiles the students enrolled in the 20 largest school districts in the United States. Indicator 7.4 examines enrollments in terms of eligibility for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. Finally, indicator 7.5 looks at the distribution of students of different races/ethnicities across schools with different levels of minority enrollment.

Indicator 7.1: Enrollment by Locale

The changing racial/ethnic composition of the student population (see indicator 1) reflects broader shifts in the general population that may result from varying immigration and fertility rates. Although there have been overall increases in the population of minority students, some groups have grown more rapidly than others in different types of locales. The racial/ethnic distribution of students by locale illustrates how minority students are dispersed across central city, urban fringe, town, and rural areas.10

From 1993 to 2003,11 minorities increased as a percentage of total public school enrollment, from 34 percent to 41 percent. Hispanic students had the largest increase (6 percentage points), while Asian/Pacific Islander students increased by 1 percentage point. Black students and American Indian/Alaska Native students stayed at roughly the same percentage of enrollment during this time period.

In 2003, central city locations had the greatest percentage of minorities enrolled in public schools (65 percent). Central cities also experienced the largest increase in minority enrollment (9 percentage points from 1993 to 2003). In contrast, rural locations had the lowest percentage of minorities enrolled in public schools in 2003 (21 percent), and the percentage of minorities in these locations increased the least (4 percentage points) from 1993 to 2003. During this period, the percentage of minority enrollment increased 5 percentage points in urban fringe areas and 8 percentage points in towns. Some 37 percent of public school students in urban fringe communities and 30 percent of those in towns were minorities in 2003.

The relatively large growth in the percentage of minority students in central cities between 1993 and 2003 was primarily driven by the increase in Hispanic students (8 percentage points) and to a lesser extent by the increase in the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students (2 percentage points). Hispanics also contributed to much of the increase in minority students in urban fringe and rural areas. In towns, the percentages of both Black and Hispanic students rose by 3 percentage points.

View Table View Table 7.1

Indicator 7.2: Enrollment by State

As with the resident population (indicator 1), the percentage of minorities enrolled in public schools varies by state. In 2004, minorities made up 42 percent of public prekindergarten through secondary school enrollment. The percentage of minority enrollment in individual states, however, ranged from 95 percent in the District of Columbia to 4 percent in Vermont. In many of the states with the highest percentages of students who were minorities, minorities accounted for a larger percentage of the state's school enrollment than they did of the state's resident population.

In addition to having the highest percentage of minority enrollment, the District of Columbia had the highest percentage of enrolled students who were Black in 2004. Some 84 percent of the 77,000 public school students in the District of Columbia were Black, while Blacks made up 56 percent of the District's resident population in 2005 (indicator 1). New Mexico had the largest percentage of Hispanic enrollment (53 percent of 326,000 public school students). This percentage was 10 percentage points higher than the percentage of the state's resident population that was Hispanic in 2005 (43 percent). Hawaii had the highest percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander enrollment, with 73 percent of 183,000 public school students. In comparison, Hawaii's resident population was 41 percent Asian and 8 percent Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander in 2005. Some 26 percent of 133,000 public school students in Alaska were American Indian/Alaska Native in 2004, a larger percentage than any other state. This percentage was 10 percentage points higher than the percentage of the Alaska resident population that was American Indian/Alaska Native in 2005.

Less than 10 percent of public school students in Vermont, Maine, West Virginia, and New Hampshire were minorities in 2004. The proportions of minority students in these states were similar to the proportions of minorities in the state resident populations in 2005.

View Table View Table 7.2
View Table View Figure 7.2a
View Table View Figure 7.2b
View Table View Figure 7.2c
View Table View Figure 7.2d

Indicator 7.3: Enrollment in the 20 Largest School Districts

The largest school districts differ from school districts in general in terms of their average school size, median pupil/teacher ratio, and minority enrollment (Sable and Hoffman 2005). During the 2004-05 school year, approximately 48 million students were enrolled in U.S. public schools within 14,205 regular public school districts12 (U.S. Department of Education forthcoming). The 20 largest school districts enrolled over 5 million students, or 11 percent of the total student enrollment. Minority students represented a larger percentage of enrollment in these 20 school districts (80 percent) than in school districts overall (42 percent).

The number of students enrolled in the 20 largest school districts varied substantially, ranging from over 1 million students in New York City Public Schools to 129,000 students in Florida's Duval County School District. Six of the 20 largest school districts were located in Florida, two were in California, two were in Texas, and two were in Maryland, while the rest were located in eight different states across the country. Many, but not all, were located in large cities or their suburbs.

View Table View Figure 7.3

The 20 largest school districts had a relatively large proportion of minority students. In 2004, the 20 largest school districts enrolled 11 percent of the total student population and 20 percent of the total minority student population (data not shown). However, the racial/ethnic distribution of students in these districts varied. The percentage of students who were minorities ranged from 46 percent in the suburban Fairfax County Public Schools District (VA) to 97 percent in the Detroit City School District (MI), which had the highest percentage of students who were Black among the 20 largest public school districts (91 percent of 141,000 students). Los Angeles Unified had the highest percentage of students who were Hispanic (73 percent of 741,000 students). The Hawaii Department of Education, which encompasses the entire state's education system in one school district, had the highest percentage of students who were Asian/Pacific Islander (73 percent of 183,000 students), followed by the Fairfax County Public Schools District (18 percent of 165,000 students) and San Diego Unified School District (CA) (17 percent of 135,000 students). In each of the 20 largest districts, the percentage of students who were American Indian/Alaska Native was less than the total U.S. percentage of students who were American Indian/Alaska Native.

View Table View Table 7.3

Indicator 7.4: Free and Reduced-Price Lunch

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children from low-income families in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2005).13 Eligibility for the free and reduced-price lunch program is often used as a proxy measure of family income (U.S. Department of Education 2004a, indicator 5).

Overall, 41 percent of 4th-graders were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in 2005. White 4th-graders had the lowest percentage of eligible students (24 percent). The percentages of Black and Hispanic 4th-graders (70 and 73 percent) who were eligible were three times the percentages of White 4th-graders who were eligible, and the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native 4th-graders (65 percent) who were eligible was nearly three times that of Whites. Asians/Pacific Islanders also had a higher percentage (33 percent) of eligible students than did Whites, but a lower percentage than did Blacks, Hispanics, or American Indians/Alaska Natives.

A higher percentage of 4th-graders in central city locations (54 percent) were eligible than students in rural areas (41 percent) and urban fringe/large town locales (32 percent). Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders in central cities had higher percentages of eligible students than their counterparts in other locales. For Blacks, the percentages of eligible rural/small town and central city students were not measurably different. Out of all central city students, Hispanics had the highest percentage of eligible students (79 percent), while Blacks had the highest percentage of eligible students in rural/small town locales (78 percent).

View Table View Table 7.4a
View Table View Figure 7.4

The concentration of students in low-poverty and high-poverty schools also differs by race/ethnicity. A higher percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander 4th-graders (27 percent) attended schools in the lowest poverty level (10 percent or less of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches) than did White (21 percent), Black (4 percent), Hispanic (4 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (4 percent) 4th-graders. Black and Hispanic 4th-graders were the most likely to attend high-poverty schools (more than 75 percent of students eligible) (48 and 49 percent, respectively). White students were the least likely to attend schools in this category (5 percent).

View Table View Table 7.4b

Indicator 7.5: Concentration of Minority Enrollment

In the 2004-05 school year, 24 percent of public elementary and secondary students attended schools where at least three-quarters of the students were minorities. Forty-two percent attended schools with less than a quarter minority enrollment. Minority groups differ in the extent to which they attend minority predominant schools. Some 52 percent of Black students and 58 percent of Hispanic students attended schools where 75 percent or more of students were minorities. Relatively small proportions of Black and Hispanic children attended schools with low minority enrollment. Nine percent of Black children and 8 percent of Hispanic children attended schools with less than 25 percent minority children.

In contrast, Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native students were more evenly distributed among schools with different levels of minority enrollment. Twenty percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students attended schools with less than a quarter minority enrollment, but over a third attended schools with 75 percent or more minority students. Twenty-five percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students were in schools where less than a quarter of students were minorities, and 30 percent attended schools with 75 percent or more minority students.

View Table View Table 7.5
View Table View Figure 7.5

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10 The NCES Common Core of Data (CCD), collected annually, is one source of data on the racial/ethnic composition of schools, both overall and for specific locales. See Appendix C: Guide to Sources for definitions of locales.
11 Indicator 7.1 uses 2003 CCD data, while indicators 7.2 and 7.4 use 2004 CCD data, due to the availability of locale data.
12 "Regular public school district" denotes a local school district that is not a component of a supervisory union (or in other words, not a part of a larger district). For more information, see http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/commonfiles/glossary.asp
13 Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents.

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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education