Examining patterns in elementary and secondary enrollment and the characteristics of schools and students helps to illustrate the educational experiences of students. Indicator 7.1 looks at the racial/ethnic composition of public school enrollment in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Indicator 7.2 examines school enrollment in the four major types of locales (city, suburban, town, and rural) by race/ethnicity. Indicator 7.3 profiles the students enrolled in the 20 largest school districts in the United States. Indicator 7.4 focuses on the distribution of students of different races/ethnicities across schools with varying enrollments of White, Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native students. Finally, indicator 7.5 examines enrollment in terms of race/ethnicity and eligibility for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.
The racial/ethnic distribution of public elementary and secondary students has changed over time. Between 2000–01 and 2007–08, the percentage of students enrolled in public school who were White decreased from 61 to 56 percent. During this same time period, the percentage of Black (17 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native students (1 percent) remained unchanged. However, the percentage of Hispanic students increased from 17 to 21 percent, and the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students increased from 4 to 5 percent.
Regional differences in the racial/ethnic distribution of students were observed over time. For instance, the percentage of White students in the West decreased from 50 percent in 2000–01 to 44 percent in 2007–08. The percentage of Hispanic students increased in all regions of the United States. For example, the percentage of Hispanic students in the West increased from 32 to 38 percent between 2000-01 and 2007-08, and the percentage of Hispanics in the South increased from 15 to 20 percent. In the Northeast, enrollment of Asian/Pacific Islander students increased from 4 to 6 percent during that time period.View Table 7.1a
As with the resident population discussed in indicator 1, the distribution of Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native students enrolled in public schools varied by state. In the 2007–08 school year, Vermont and Maine enrolled the highest percentages of White students (95 and 94 percent, respectively), and the District of Columbia enrolled the lowest (5 percent). The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of enrolled students who were Black: 83 percent of the 78,000 public school students were Black, while Blacks made up 53 percent of the District's resident population in 2008 (indicator 1)7. New Mexico had the highest percentage of Hispanic enrollment (56 percent of 328,000 public school students). This percentage was 11 points higher than the percentage of the state's resident population that was Hispanic in 2008 (45 percent). Hawaii had the highest percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander enrollment: 73 percent of 180,000 public school students were Asians/Pacific Islanders. In comparison, Hawaii's resident population was 38 percent Asian and 9 percent Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander in 2008 (in addition, 16 percent of Hawaiians identified themselves as "two or more races"). Some 25 percent of 123,000 public school students in Alaska were American Indian/Alaska Native in 2007–08, a larger percentage than in any other state. This percentage was 11 points higher than the percentage of the Alaska resident population that was American Indian/Alaska Native in 2008.View Table 7.1b
The racial/ethnic distribution of public school students by locale illustrates how Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native students are distributed across city, suburban, town, and rural areas.8 In the 2007–08 school year, 56 percent of all public elementary and secondary students in the nation were White, 17 percent were Black, 21 percent were Hispanic, 5 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native.
A greater percentage of public elementary and secondary students attended schools in suburban areas (35 percent) than in cities (29 percent), rural areas (23 percent), and towns (13 percent). White students were concentrated in suburban (36 percent) and rural areas (31 percent), with lower percentages in cities (17 percent) and towns (16 percent). In contrast, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students were concentrated in cities and suburban areas. About 47 percent of all Black students, 45 percent of Hispanic students, and 42 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students were in cities, while 14 percent of Black, 11 percent of Hispanic, and 10 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students were in rural areas. A greater percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students (41 percent) were in rural areas than in cities (20 percent), suburban areas (16 percent), and towns (22 percent).View Table 7.2
The largest school districts differ from school districts in general in their average school size, median pupil/teacher ratio, and levels of Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native student enrollment (Tang and Sable 2009). During the 2007–08 school year, approximately 49 million9 students were enrolled in U.S. public schools within 13,900 regular public school districts10. The 20 largest school districts enrolled over 5 million students, or 11 percent of the total student enrollment.
The number of students enrolled in the 20 largest school districts varied substantially, ranging from 990,000 students in New York City Public Schools to 130,000 students in Maryland's Prince George's County Public Schools. Five of the 20 largest school districts were located in Florida, two districts each were located in California, Texas, Maryland, and North Carolina, and the rest were located in seven different states across the country. Many, but not all, were located in large cities or their suburbs.
The racial/ethnic distribution of students in the 20 largest school districts varied. In 18 out of the 20 school districts, less than 50 percent of all students were White. Dallas Independent School District (TX) and Prince George's County Public Schools (MD) had the lowest percentages of White students (5 percent each), while Wake County Public Schools (NC) had the highest percentage of White students (55 percent). Of the 20 largest public school districts, Prince George's County Public Schools (MD) had the highest percentage of students who were Black (74 percent of 130,000 students). Los Angeles Unified (CA) had the highest percentage of students who were Hispanic (74 percent of 694,000 students). The Hawaii Department of Education, the school district that encompasses the entire state's education system, had the highest percentage of students who were Asian/Pacific Islander (73 percent of 180,000 students), followed by the Fairfax County Public Schools District (VA) (20 percent of 166,000 students). In each of the 20 largest districts, the percentage of students who were American Indian/Alaska Native was less than the national percentage of students who were American Indian/Alaska Native.View Table 7.3
Examining the composition of public schools by specific racial/ethnic group provides a more detailed snapshot of the extent to which students are concentrated in schools in which at least half of the students were White, Black, or Hispanic. Nationally, public schools in which at least half of the students were White enrolled 87 percent of all White, 51 percent of all American Indian/Alaska Native, 43 percent of all Asian/Pacific Islander, 26 percent of all Black, and 22 percent of all Hispanic public school students in 2007–08. Public schools in which at least half of the students were Black enrolled 48 percent of all Black public school students and 2 to 4 percent of public school students from each of the other racial/ethnic groups. Similarly, public schools in which at least half of the students were Hispanic enrolled 57 percent of all Hispanic public school students, 12 percent of all Asian/Pacific Islander public school students, 8 percent each of Black and American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 3 percent of White students.View Table 7.4
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).11 Eligibility for the free and reduced-price lunch program is often used as a proxy measure of family income.
Overall, 48 percent of public school 4th-graders were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in 2009. White 4th-graders had the lowest percentage of eligible students (29 percent). The percentages of Black (74 percent), Hispanic (77 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (68 percent) 4th-graders who were eligible were higher than the percentages of White 4th-graders and Asian/Pacific Islander (34 percent) 4th-graders who were eligible.
A higher percentage of public school 4th-graders in cities (62 percent) were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch than were 4th-graders in suburban areas (39 percent), towns (52 percent), and rural areas (42 percent). Eighty-two percent of Hispanics in cities and 84 percent of Hispanics in towns were eligible; these percentages were higher than those for their Hispanic counterparts in suburban (70 percent) and rural areas (72 percent). For Blacks, the percentage of eligible students was higher in cities and towns (80 and 83 percent, respectively) than in suburban and rural areas (65 and 72 percent, respectively). Higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students in cities were eligible compared with students of other races/ethnicities living in cities.View Table 7.5a
The concentration of students in low-poverty and high-poverty public schools also differed by race/ethnicity in 2009. Low-poverty public schools are defined here as schools in which 10 percent or less of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. High-poverty public schools pertain here to schools in which more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Higher percentages of Asian/Pacific Islander (27 percent) and White (19 percent) public school 4th-graders attended low-poverty schools than did Black (3 percent), Hispanic (3 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (4 percent) 4th-graders. Black and Hispanic 4th-graders had the highest percentages of attendance at high-poverty public schools (47 and 52 percent, respectively), while White 4th-graders had the lowest percentage of attendance at schools in this category (7 percent).View Table 7.5b
7 See Table 1b on page xx for the resident population estimates presented in this paragraph.
8 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 A: Guide to Sources for definitions of locales.
9 Total enrollment is higher than the total on table 7.3 due to missing race/ethnicity information.
10 "Regular public school districts" are local agencies that are responsible for providing education services to school-age children within their jurisdiction. For more information, see http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/pdf/pau08pgen.pdf.
11 Children from households 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. The poverty level for a family of four in 2009 was $22,050. The thresholds for free and reduced-price lunch are $28,665 and $40,793, respectively.