I wrote this week that Indiana schools have become more racially and ethnically diverse in the past 10 years. One reason is that they enroll more students of color, but it’s also true that the number of white students has decreased – by quite a lot.
White enrollment in the state’s public and charter schools declined by 11% between 2010-11 and 2020-21, according to Indiana Department of Education data. Total enrollment held steady, thanks to increases in Asian, multiracial and, especially, Hispanic students.
Indiana is still a predominantly white state, but its white population is aging. According to census data provided by the Indiana Business Research Center, only 20.6% of the white population was under age 18 in 2020, compared to 32.3% of the nonwhite population.
Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, schools in the United States are intensely segregated and are growing more so, according to a new analysis by scholars at UCLA and Penn State.
Supreme Court Building
But the demographics of schools have changed since the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were “inherently unequal,” regardless of resources.
In 1954, the U.S. had a large white majority and a small black minority, and the groups were taught separately in 17 Southern states. Today, whites are fewer than half the students in public schools, there are more Latino than African American students, and schools are more segregated in the North.
In another change, suburbs of the largest metro areas have become more racially diverse as black and Latino families find work and homes outside the cities.
“With a truly multiracial student enrollment, it is essential that we revisit Brown to reconceptualize what it means to desegregate our schools so that students from all racial backgrounds can learn together,” the authors write.
It was true five years ago and it’s still true today. The grades that Indiana assigns to schools say more about the students the schools serve than how effective the schools are.
A change in the grading system this year was a step in the right direction, but not a big enough step to make the grades fair or credible. Schools that get high grades are still more likely than not to serve few students from poor families. Those that get low grades are almost certainly high-poverty schools.
The idea that a simple A-to-F grade would provide meaningful information about something as complex as a public school was always silly. But basing grades primarily on standardized test scores, as Indiana has done, means the grades will be not only misleading but harmful to schools that struggle to improve.
Indiana changed its formula this year so that grades would be based equally on test-score performance and test-score growth. The result seems to be that a few affluent schools got Bs rather than As, and some schools with low tests scores may have bumped their grades to a D or a C via growth. But the overall trend still holds.
One way to look at this is divide Indiana’s public and charter schools into quartiles by the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Matthew Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute did this in 2012 to show the tight fit between school grades and poverty. I did the same thing in 2013 and 2014. Continue reading