By Laura Moser, slate.com
Diversity isn’t just a hallmark of big cities anymore. The U.S. as a whole is rapidly becoming a majority-minority country, starting with our youngest citizens: Last summer, the U.S. Census Bureau published a report on the changing demographics of the country and found that, as of 2014, 50.2 percent of American kids under the age of 5 are nonwhite—a shift that promises to transform American society more broadly in the decades to come.
That’s why the “New Education Majority” poll from the Leadership Conference Education Fund is so important: because it directly asks the parents and caregivers of these no-longer–minority kids about their priorities and problems with the U.S. education system. The poll of 400 black and 400 Latino caregivers of varying income levels (the poll left out Asian American and Native American parents “due to resource constraints”) found that most of these parents are aware of the well-documented race-based disparities in schools: 66 percent of black parents and 45 percent of Latino parents “reject the notion that students in their communities receive as good an education as White students.” They’d also like to see much higher expectations set for black and Latino students, including those from low-income communities.
The majority of the respondents who saw racial inequities in education cited “lack of funding” as the primary reason for these disparities. Eighty-three percent of black and 61 percent of Latinos polled don’t believe that schools in black and Latino communities get the same funding as schools in white communities, and to the question of whether “schools in low-income communities receive the same amount of funding as schools in wealthy communities,” 84 percent of black and 77 percent of Latino respondents answered no.
So what do these communities prioritize most? A huge majority of this new majority (90 percent of blacks and 94 percent of Latinos) ranked high-quality teachers as an important quality of a great school. Seventy-six percent of black and 64 percent of Latino respondents thought that teachers needed to be more diverse—a recurring problem in American education—and a third considered it very important that “teachers look like the students in the school.”
And at a time of year when the opt-out movement—which is still a predominantly white phenomenon—is getting so much press, most black and Latino families polled support standardized testing: Roughly 70 percent of parents in both groups believes in using “yearly testing to help parents and teachers know how well children are doing,” and over 60 percent of both black and Latino parents think it’s important that students perform well on these tests. And while white parents fret over the amount of homework being heaped on their children, most black and Latino parents have the opposite complaint: 90 percent of black and 84 percent of Latino parents think that students should be “challenged more to help ensure they are successful later in life.”
Overall, this data provides a startling look at how different racial and socioeconomic groups view our education system. Perhaps the most depressing statistic is that a third of the African-Americans and a quarter of the Latinos polled “do not believe schools are really trying to educate students in their communities.” As more and more minority groups fill our nation’s classrooms, what can we do to even the separate-but–forever–unequal playing field? Now that’s a question many very smart people have spent decades trying to answer.