Student demographics change at some Texas schools
May 8, 2012
By Gary Scharrer
School yearbooks tell the story.
Flip through the pages of San Antonio’s John Jay High School annual, “Hoofprints,” and the story of Texas schools over the past 50 years is illustrated in class portraits — an emerging majority-minority that has grown rapidly, and since 2000 has boomed.
In cities large and small, including urban centers like Dallas and Houston, and towns like Amarillo and Beaumont, the percentage of Anglo children is steadily shrinking. The average in most major cities is about 10 percent, and in cities like Brownsville and Laredo it’s less than 1 percent.
At Northside ISD, San Antonio’s largest district, Anglo enrollment has dipped from 38 percent to 19 percent.
Longtime educator Calvin “Buck” Buchholtz is a witness.
Most of the students attending Jay High School were white when Buchholtz stepped on campus as a rookie teacher 40 years ago. Today, 83 percent of the student body is Hispanic.
Buchholtz, a student council adviser at the school, said he doesn’t often stop to reflect on a demographic transformation that has been “absolutely” profound. Looking at faces in yearbooks captures the change. “It’s documented,” he said.
Non-Hispanic white children are the minority in public schools, with Anglo enrollments in larger districts nearly vanishing and suburban schools following suit.
The group is on track to count for less than 30 percent of the state’s 5 million public school students by 2013.
In the past two years, the number of white students has declined by 88,256, a 5.5 percent decrease, while the number of Hispanic children has increased by 187,181, or 8 percent.
The Express-News first reported on the trend two years ago. Since then, Hispanic children have become the majority in the state’s public schools.
Existing education models and resources will be tested as the trend advances. “More and more of our kids will be of Hispanic descent, and that poses challenges for us,” Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter said.
Much of the state’s enrollment increase is made up of children from low-income families, which could affect the state’s future prosperity — depending on how state leaders and legislators handle the new reality.
Demographers and educators worry because Hispanic participation in higher education lags far behind that of whites.
“If we are not successful in educating the growing Hispanic population that’s been driven by children coming into the population, we are looking at some real challenges to the quality of life in Texas,” Potter said. “And all the school districts will have to make adjustments to make sure they are prepared to address the needs of young Hispanic learners. We have this huge challenge. It’s kind of daunting when you look at it.”
A report by the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Higher Education Research last month points to a worrisome future for Texas, which ranks 39th among states in percentage of adults — 25 and older — who have earned at least an associate degree, according to the report.
Among young people, 43 percent of Anglos hold at least an associate degree, compared with only 15 percent for Hispanics, according to the report.
Long in the making, the trend has been gaining speed in the past decade.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Texans who identify as Hispanic account for two-thirds of the state’s growth since 2000. Hispanics are now 38 percent of the state’s 25.1 million people, up from 32 percent in 1990.
Critics say not enough is being done to prepare a new type of student population that is overwhelmingly low-income.
The number of children from low-income families has increased by nearly 1.1 million since 2000. They make up slightly more than 60 percent of the entire K-12 enrollment.
To gain a better understanding of students’ environments, teachers at Jay High School visit homes on the Southwest Side, including some of very modest means.
The battle seems uphill.
Because many parents struggle to make ends meet, it’s the teachers who promote the importance of education, he said. “Without that drive or push from the family, the teachers are the bad guys. We’re the ones that are lecturing to them all the time.”
Often, children struggle to stay awake during the school day, have trouble understanding lessons and are two or three grade levels behind, said veteran Northside ISD educator Susan Garcia, who teaches fourth grade at Hatchett Elementary.
“Most of their day may be spent worrying if they will eat that night, will have to endure another family fight, or are so far behind that they feel it is just useless to try,” she said. “I strongly believe that many of our parents try to prepare their kiddos for school as best as they can. However, their economic struggles cause them so much stress that they may lose sight of the fact that their child may be struggling in school.”
Education research indicates many low-income students arrive in school without developed vocabularies and reading experiences.
“Those kids get into the school system and have a relatively poor prognosis of being successful compared to kids that are from a middle-class or upper-middle class family,” said Potter, the state demographer. “It just feeds this whole thing, unless we can get kids showing up at kindergarten ready to learn.”
State leaders are aware of the effect but cut funding last year for full-day Pre-K, a program that helps prepare low-income youngsters for school to minimize the chance they will drop out later.
“If we don’t invest in it, we’re not going to get a return,” Potter said.
As soon as 2015, Hispanics will be the largest population group in Texas.
White enrollments that once represented a solid majority in suburban districts are more reflective of the dwindling minority seen in urban districts and are increasingly rare in border communities. In Laredo ISD, for example, the enrollment of 24,788 includes a mere 81 white children.
The shift follows another upwardly trending line for Hispanics: new births.
Hispanic growth is driven largely by higher birth rates, demographers say. Non-Hispanic whites represent the majority of the state’s baby boomer-and-older generation, who are no longer making babies.
“Age 38 and younger, there are more Hispanics than whites,” Potter said. “Relatively speaking, you have your very rapidly growing segment of the population that’s adding children to the population.”
The number of Texas Hispanics younger than 5 increased by 262,387 from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census, while the number of Anglo children decreased by 30,571.
The trend is unlikely to change, Potter said.
The easiest way to size up the new Texas is to look at the faces of children in public schools, Potter said. Only 30.5 percent of the nearly 5 million this year are “white,” a category the Texas Education Agency uses.
“If you are looking at the enrollment numbers,” he said, “you are looking at our future.”
Source: Houston Chronicle