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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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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School discipline data show discrepancies by race

Black students are suspended from Indiana public and charter schools at about four times the rate at which white students are suspended, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Multiracial students, students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and special-needs students are also more likely than their peers to be suspended, the data show.

This is alarming but not surprising. Disparities in discipline have been studied by academics and reported by the news media. Some research has found students of color are more likely than white students to be punished for the same behavior. A General Accountability Office report found that black students made up 15 percent of students in public schools but accounted for 39 percent of suspensions.

Experts point to a variety of causes, including zero-tolerance policies, implicit bias by teachers and administrators and a lack of awareness of alternative approaches to discipline.

Out-of-school suspension is tied to lower achievement, higher dropout rates and other adverse outcomes. If students aren’t in school, they aren’t learning and they’re more likely to grow discouraged and give up. Advocates say suspensions contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

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