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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Time for ‘educational recovery planning’

It was no surprise when state officials announced last week that Indiana K-12 schools would stay closed for the remainder of the school year, with instruction provided remotely. But important questions won’t be answered for some time.

First, when will schools reopen? Will there be summer school this year, or will schools stay closed until fall — or even longer? How will Indiana help students recover from losing over two months of their education? And finally, how will we pay for it?

A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that, absent an effective educational response, the pandemic “is likely to generate the greatest disruption in educational opportunity worldwide in a generation.” That’s a frightening thought.

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