White students are declining in Indiana schools

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.

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Schools reflect demographic change

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story last week about America’s increased diversity as revealed by the 2020 census. Focusing on Columbus, Indiana, it showed that “small Midwestern towns” are where the nation is diversifying the fastest.

“One in seven residents in Columbus … was born outside the United States,” the story said. “Public school students collectively speak more than 50 languages and dialects at home. Roughly three dozen foreign companies operate in the area.”

You can also see this trend in enrollment figures for Indiana schools. Between 2010-11 and 2020-21, students in Indiana public and charter schools who identify as a race or ethnicity other than white increased from 26.9% to 34.2%, according to Indiana Department of Education data.

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Some truths should make us uncomfortable

Give credit to the Carmel High School students who stood up to the community members who think they shouldn’t be exposed to hard truths about race in America. That takes courage in a district where only 7% of students are Black or Hispanic.

According to the Indy Star, five students took to the mic at a recent Carmel Clay School Board meeting to defend the district’s efforts to be more inclusive about race, gender and other factors.

“They shared what it’s like to be a student in Carmel and stressed their support for the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work happening in the district,” reporter MJ Slaby wrote. “The students said it fosters understanding and helps to provide representation to all students.”

You’d think supporting equity and inclusion would be a no-brainer, but it’s not. In several Hamilton County school districts – Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield-Washington and Noblesville – residents have turned out at board meetings to voice objections.

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White teachers are the norm

Indiana has a teacher diversity problem. This has been an issue for a long time; and even though some school districts have been trying to hire more teachers of color, change comes slowly if at all.

Data from the Indiana Department of Education are discouraging, showing most students are missing out on the experience of learning from diverse teachers.

  • Over 93% of Indiana teachers are white. That compares with 66.4% of students in public and charter schools who are white.
  • Fewer than 4% of teachers are Black, compared with 12.7% of students.
  • Only 1.7% of teachers are Hispanic, compared with 12.8% of students.

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Public schools and investing in all our children

Everyone who cares about education should read this Indianapolis Star guest column by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor Edward Curtis IV.

Headlined “Why we love our D-rated school,” it explains why Curtis sends his two elementary-age children to their neighborhood public school, regardless of test scores and school grades. The decision, he says, reflects his family’s deepest hopes for all children, not just their own.

“My choice is based not only on our family’s ethics, but also on calculated self-interest,” he writes. “We act out of our deepest values while also providing our kids with great opportunities by sending them to a multiracial, multireligious, multilanguage, working-class school.”

Curtis describes the joy that he sees when he visits the school’s classrooms and attends after-school activities. He celebrates that his children are learning by experience to live in a world that includes poor people, people of color, refugees and families that are learning to speak English.

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Good news from Raleigh

The big education-related story in this month’s elections came from Ohio, where voters repealed a law that limited collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees, including teachers.

But for this blog, the most significant election news was Kevin Hill’s victory in a run-off election for a school board seat in in Wake County, N.C. The outcome gave Democrats a sweep of this year’s board races and a 5-4 edge on the school board in Raleigh.

And it ousted the Republican majority that had dismantled Wake County’s brave and innovative socio-economic diversity policy.

It’s not yet clear whether the new board majority will bring back the old policy, which assigned students to schools in a way that avoided concentrating large numbers of poor children in the same buildings. Wake County school administrators are moving ahead with a neighborhood and “choice-based” student assignment plan adopted by the former Republican majority. Democrats say they’ll review the plan.

However that plays out, this is an outcome worth noting.

In an era when education “reform” is based on the idea that competition must drive improvement – that parents are out to get the best possible education for their own kids, whether through charter schools, magnet schools or vouchers, and never mind everyone else – the Wake County results can be interpreted as endorsing education as a community responsibility.

Fifty-seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional. But as UCLA’s Gary Orfield and his Civil Rights Project colleagues have shown, schools have become more segregated in the past generation, by race and especially by social class.

It may be that poverty will always be with us. But socio-economic segregation of schools is a result of choices – decisions by people of means to abandon the cities and public education, sure, but also political decisions about student-assignment plans and the boundaries of school districts and attendance areas. (Example: Bloomington, Ind., where one elementary school has 90 percent of its students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches, while an elementary school with an adjacent attendance area has fewer than 20 percent of its students qualifying for lunch subsidies).

The voters of Raleigh have shown it’s possible to choose a different path.

Meanwhile, in Denver

Emily Sirota lost her race for a seat on the Denver school board – badly. She had attracted national media attention for her challenge to a “pro-reform” candidate backed by Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children.