November 1, 2005

The High Schools Hispanics Attend

IV. Differences in Public High School Characteristics at the State Level

A second factor underlying why Hispanic youths attend different kinds of high schools at the national level is that Hispanic youths attend differing kinds of high schools at the state level compared to the high schools educating white or black youth. In the seven states with large Hispanic enrollments the public high schools that Latinos attend tend to be larger, to have more economically disadvantaged students and to be located in the central city than the public high schools that whites or blacks attend.11

Size of High School

In California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois and New Jersey, Hispanic public high school students are more likely than their white peers to attend a public high school with more than 1,838 students (Figure 8). Consider, for example, public high schools in Florida. The average public high school in Florida has 1,514 students, so Florida tends to have very large public high schools relative to other states. In Florida, 84 percent of Hispanic public high school students are educated at a school with more than 1,838 students. In Florida, 65 percent of white public high school students are educated at a school with more than 1,838 students. In each of the other six large Hispanic enrollment states, Hispanics are more likely than their white peers to attend a public high school with more than 1,838 students.

So, using Florida as an example, we can understand the twofold reason why Hispanics are in much larger schools than whites nationally. First, in percentage terms more Hispanics (6.7 percent, from Table 2) than whites (4.3 percent) are educated in the state of Florida with its large public high schools on average. That alone would tend to result in Hispanics’ being at larger high schools than whites at the national level. Second, within Florida Hispanics and whites do not attend equally large high schools. Florida Hispanics are more likely than Florida whites to go to the largest public high schools. So there is a second, intrastate effect that reinforces the effects of geographic concentration described above.

Community Context

In most of the seven large Hispanic enrollment states, Hispanic public high school students are more likely than white public high school students to be educated at a school in the central city (Figure 9). In California, 50 percent of Hispanic public high school students are educated at schools in the central city, compared with 36 percent of California white students educated at central city schools.

Free or Reduced-Price Lunch Eligibility

In California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey, Hispanics are much more likely than whites to attend a public high school with a very large percent of its student body qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches (Figure 10). For example, in Illinois 38 percent of Hispanic public high school students are at schools where more than 67 percent of the students are eligible. Among white public high school students in Illinois, only 2 percent attend schools with this level of student-body poverty.

Large and Relatively Disadvantaged High Schools

Some large public high schools also have a significant proportion of their student bodies qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches. Figure 11 shows the proportion of Hispanic and white students who are educated at schools with more than 1,838 students and more than 45 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. In the five large Hispanic states that provide information on lunch eligibility, Hispanics are much more likely than whites to attend a large high school that has more than 45 percent of students eligible. In California, 38 percent of Hispanics attend a large high school with a relatively disadvantaged student body, compared with 8 percent of whites. Hispanics are also more likely than blacks in California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey to attend a public high school with more than 1,838 students and more than 45 percent of the student body qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches.12

Student/Teacher Ratio

In the states with the largest Hispanic enrollments there are no appreciable differences between Hispanics and whites in high school student-teacher ratios. Figure 12 shows the percentage of Hispanic and white public high school students who attend schools with more than 18 students per teacher. Whites are about as likely as Hispanics to attend such schools. There are no large intrastate differences in student-teacher ratios between Hispanic and white public high school students.

In sum, at least two factors account for the fact that Hispanic public high school students are much more likely than white public high school students to attend schools that are large, located in the central city and possessing student bodies that display a greater concentration of less affluent students and higher student-teacher ratios. One factor is that Hispanic public high school students are geographically concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois, and New Jersey. Reinforcing this is the second factor, which is that within each of these states Hispanics are educated at public high schools that are larger, more likely to be located in the central city, and more likely to have less affluent student bodies than the schools that educate whites.

  1. For brevity, this report only discusses how many students are at the upper end of a particular characteristic. The complete student distributions for California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois and New Jersey are provided in the Appendix.
  2. Figure 11 does not present the percentages for blacks. The distribution of black public high school students is in the Appendix.