November 1, 2005

The High Schools Hispanics Attend

III. National Characteristics of Public High Schools Attended by Hispanic, White and Black Youth

By and large, the nation’s Latino public high school students do not attend the same public high schools that white students or black students attend. The first and most obvious difference is a product of concentration. Taken as a whole, the enrollment at the nation’s 17,500 public high schools is 13% Hispanic. Among them, 4,432 high schools have enrollments that are more than 13% Hispanic, meaning that they are disproportionately Hispanic. These 4,432 public high schools educate over 85 percent of all Hispanic public high school students. Most white and black students do not attend these 4,432 public high schools. Disproportionately Hispanic schools educate 18 percent of the nation’s white youth and 29 percent of the nation’s black youth.

As discussed later in the report, the concentration of Hispanic students in certain high schools follows in part from their patterns of geographic concentration. Most Hispanic students are educated in seven states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois and New Jersey. White and black students are more geographically dispersed across the nation. But even within these seven large Hispanic states, Hispanics largely attend different public high schools than whites and blacks attend.4

The public high schools attended by most Hispanics have some notably different characteristics than the public high schools attended by most whites and most blacks. The majority of Hispanics go to public high schools that have much larger enrollments than the national average in size: schools with 1,838 students or more in comparison with the typical American public high school of 754 students.5 Not only are most Hispanics in large schools, their schools also have relatively high concentrations of disadvantaged students. Furthermore, some measures of the instructional resources at high schools attended by Latinos lag the national average.

Public high schools that are disproportionately Hispanic, on average, are bigger, are more likely to be in the central city, and have more economically disadvantaged student bodies. Table 1 shows the average characteristics of all 17,500 public high schools across the country and the average characteristics of the subset of 4,432 disproportionately Hispanic public high schools. Among all 17,500 public high schools, the average school has 754 students. The average disproportionately Hispanic high school has 941 students. Nearly 21 percent of America’s high schools are in the central city. The high schools serving most Hispanic students are twice as likely to be in the central city. The affluence of a high school’s student body can be gauged by student participation in the free and reduced-price programs of the National School Lunch Act. The average public high school has 32 percent of its students eligible for these lunches. The schools educating most Hispanics, on average, have 41 percent of their students qualifying for the lunch programs. Alternatively, in terms of Title I status, 28 percent of the nation’s public high schools are Title I eligible.6 About 39 percent of disproportionately Hispanic public high schools are Title I eligible. In terms of instructional resources, the typical high school has 16 students per teacher. The high schools educating most Latinos average 18 students per teacher.

In order to know precisely how many students are educated in what kind of school, we need to look at students, not schools. Table 1 looks at schools, so it does not tell us precisely how many Hispanic students are educated in a particular kind of high school. In what follows, we examine students across different kinds of high schools.

Size of High School

Hispanics tend to be educated in very large public high schools. Ten percent of the nation’s public high schools have 1,838 or more students enrolled at the school. About 56 percent of the nation’s Hispanic high school students attend these very large high schools (Figure 1). Fewer than one third of black students and about one quarter of white students attend these large schools. A quarter of public high schools have 1,145 or more students. Nearly 80 percent of Hispanics go to these large schools, compared with 66 percent of black students and 55 percent of white students.

At the other end of the size continuum, half of the nation’s public high schools have 493 students or fewer. Relatively few Hispanics attend them (8.8 percent) and Hispanics are less likely than black (9.0 percent) or white students (15.5 percent) to go to a small high school.

Free or Reduced-Price Lunch Eligibility

About a third of the student body at the average public high school is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs. However, 10 percent of high schools have more than two thirds of their students eligible for the lunch programs. Latino students disproportionately attend the high schools that display greater economic disadvantage by this measure (Figure 2). Nearly 19 percent of Hispanic students are in schools with more than 67 percent of their students eligible for the lunch programs, in comparison with only 2 percent of white students. The most disadvantaged quarter of high schools have more than 45 percent of the student body eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. More than 44 percent of Hispanic students attend the most disadvantaged quarter of high schools, compared with only 9 percent of white students.

Title I Eligibility

An alternative proxy for poverty status is Title I eligibility. Federal Title I funds are targeted toward schools with high concentrations of poor students. Among the states that reported Title I eligibility status, there were 4,648 public high schools that were Title I eligible in 2002-03. Nearly 48 percent of Hispanic high school students attended these Title I eligible schools, in comparison with 17 percent of white students and 32 percent of black students.

Large and Relatively Disadvantaged High Schools

The gap between Hispanic and other students is even larger when the focus is shifted to high schools that are both big and that educate high proportions of students from economically disadvantaged families. As shown above, well over half of Hispanic public high school students attend very large high schools with more than 1,838 students. Some of these very large high schools also have relatively less affluent student bodies. Among public high schools with more than 1,838 students, 297 schools have more than 45 percent of their students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.7 That means there are 297 public high schools that are both extremely large in terms of student enrollment and that have a relatively large proportion of their student body demonstrating economic disadvantage. These 297 schools educate about 750,000 students, or about 6 percent of the nation’s students. One quarter of the nation’s Latino students attend these 297 schools (Figure 3). About 1 percent of the nation’s white students are enrolled in these schools and 8 percent of the nation’s black students attend these schools.

Turning to the large and most disadvantaged high schools in terms of free or reducedprice lunch eligibility, 87 public high schools have more than 1,838 students and more than two thirds of their students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. These 87 high schools educate 10 percent of the nation’s Latino high school students but only 0.2 percent and 1.7 percent of the nation’s white and black public high school students, respectively.

Community Context

Nearly 50 percent of all Hispanic students attend a high school located in a central city (Figure 4). Fewer than 20 percent of white youths go to central city high schools. Black students are as likely as Hispanic students to attend schools in the central city, but they are not attending the same kinds of central city high schools as Latinos. Latino students in the central city are twice as likely as black central city students to go to very large high schools (schools with 1,838 or more students). A similar pattern appears if we examine Latino and black students who attend schools in urban metropolitan areas outside the central city. Hispanics in this “urban fringe” are more likely to attend very large high schools (58 percent) when compared with blacks attending school in the urban fringe (41 percent).

Student/Teacher Ratio

Associated with the fact that Hispanics tend to go to large high schools is the fact that Hispanics are more likely to be in high schools with higher student-to-teacher ratios.8 Ten percent of U.S. high schools had 22 students or more for every teacher employed in 2002-03. The average school had 16.1 students for every teacher, and half the high schools had fewer than 15.1 students per teacher. Hispanics are much more likely than whites or blacks to attend the schools with the higher numbers of students per teacher (Figure 5).9 About 37 percent of Hispanics attend schools with more than 22 students per teacher, compared with 13 percent of whites and 14 percent of blacks.

Magnet Status

One characteristic that black and Hispanic high school students share is their likelihood of attending a magnet high school.10 Magnet high schools are rare. Fewer than 3 percent of high schools are magnet schools, and the magnet high schools are concentrated in central city areas. Among both black and Hispanic students, an identical 11 percent attend magnet high schools, in comparison with 2 percent of white high school students.

The Concentration of Black Students

The nation’s African-American students are highly concentrated in a quarter of America’s high schools. Almost 85 percent of black students attend the 4,450 high schools that have more than 14 percent black enrollment (Figure 6). But this quarter of high schools is not the same quarter of high schools that educate the preponderance of Hispanic youth. Fewer than 30 percent of Hispanic students attend these high schools with above-average black enrollment and fewer than 20 percent of white students attend such schools.

Percent Minority

In about 10 percent of the nation’s high schools more than 88 percent of the student body is made up of racial or ethnic minorities. Among Hispanic students, 33 percent attend these densely minority high schools, compared with fewer than 1 percent of white students (Figure 7). One quarter of the nation’s schools have more than 52 percent minority enrollment. Nearly 71 percent of Latinos attend schools with more than 52 percent minority enrollment, compared with 10 percent of white students.

  1. Blacks and Hispanics in Arizona are an exception. About half of black public high school students in Arizona attend 172 public high schools. These 172 public high schools educate 64 percent of Arizona’s Hispanic students. Thus, there is considerable overlap between Hispanic and black students in Arizona in their high schools. By contrast, Hispanic and white public high school students in Arizona largely do not share the same high schools. The 172 public high schools educate only 14 percent of Arizona’s white public high school students.
  2. Public high schools with 1,838 students or more are at the 90th percentile of the size distribution of American high schools. That is, 10% of high schools have 1,838 or more students.
  3. Title I refers to additional funding that schools receive under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The funds are targeted toward school districts with high concentrations of poor children, and within those districts toward schools with more students in poverty.
  4. Not all the 1,762 public high schools with student enrollment greater than 1,832 students reported the number of free or reduced-price lunch students; only 1,632 did so. Thus, the 297 high schools that reported free or reduced-price lunch students in excess of 45 percent of their student enrollment came from the slightly smaller group.
  5. Larger high schools tend to have higher student-to-teacher ratios. As reported in Table 1, the average high school has 16.1 students per teacher. The average student-to-teacher ratio at high schools with more than 1,838 students is 19 to 1.
  6. Throughout the analysis, the upper category is set at the 90th percentile of the characteristic’s distribution and the second category uses the upper quartile of the distribution. Hence, in Figure 5, one quarter of public high schools have student-to-teacher ratios greater than 18
  7. A “magnet school” is a school that is designed to attract students of different racial or ethnic backgrounds for the purpose of reducing racial isolation, or to provide an academic or social focus on a particular theme.