March 31, 2009

Sharp Growth in Suburban Minority Enrollment Yields Modest Gains in School Diversity

I. Overview

The student population of America’s suburban public schools has shot up by 3.4 million in the past decade and a half, and virtually all of this increase (99%) has been due to the enrollment of new Latino, black and Asian students, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of public school data. Once a largely white enclave, suburban school districts in 2006-07 educated a student population that was 41% non-white, up from 28% in 1993-94 and not much different from the 44% non-white share of the nation’s overall public school student population. At the same time, suburban school districts have been gaining “market share”; they educated 38% of the nation’s public school students in 2006-07, up from 35% in 1993-94.

The most potent driver of all these trends has been the near doubling of the Latino share of suburban school district enrollment—to 20% in 2006-07, from 11% in 1993-94. Over this same time period, the black share grew to 15% from 12% and the Asian share rose slightly, to 6% from 5%. Overall, white students made up just 59% of the enrollment in suburban public schools in 2006-07, down from 72% in 1993-94.

The movement of minority students into suburban schools has had the overall effect of slightly reducing levels of ethnic and racial segregation throughout the nation’s 93,430 public schools. However, trends vary for different minority groups, community types, school districts and, especially, individual schools. For example, despite the sharp rise in the racial and ethnic diversity of suburban district enrollments overall, there has been only a modest increase in the racial and ethnic diversity of student populations at the level of the individual suburban school.

These findings are based on an analysis of the most recent available enrollment figures for the nation’s public schools. The National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education collects this information and also classifies school districts as being suburban, city or town/rural districts.

School-Level Diversity in the Suburbs

In 2006-07, the typical white suburban student attended a school whose student body was 75% white; in 1993-94, this same figure had been 83%. So at a time when the white share of student enrollment in suburban school districts was falling by 13 percentage points (from 72% in 1993-94 to 59% in 2006-07), the exposure of the typical white suburban student to minority students in his or her own school was growing by a little more than half that much—or 8 percentage points.

Meantime, the typical black suburban school student in 2006-07 attended a school that was 34% white, down from 43% white in 1993-94. The typical Hispanic suburban student attended a school that was 31% white, down from 40% white in 1993-94. And the typical Asian suburban school student attended a school that was 48% white, down from 55% white in 1993-94. Thus, suburban minority students’ exposure to white students has declined since 1993-94, reflecting the overall lower proportion of white students in suburban district enrollments.

Looking at the exposure of minority suburban students to their own racial or ethnic group rather than to whites, a different pattern emerges for Hispanics than for blacks or Asians.

Suburban Hispanic students are increasingly attending schools whose student bodies have a high percentage of Hispanics. In 2006-07, the typical suburban Hispanic student attended a school that was 49% Latino, up from 42% Latino in 1993-94. By contrast, there was little change during this period in the levels of racial isolation of black and Asian suburban students. In 2006-07, the typical suburban black student attended a school that was 44% black, up only slightly from 43% black in 1993-94, and the typical suburban Asian student attended a school that was 23% Asian, down slightly from 24% Asian in 1993-94.

The National Perspective

The movement of minority students into suburban school districts since 1993-94 has had an impact on national trends in minority student isolation. Nationally, the typical black student in 2006-07 attended a school that was 52% black, down from 54% black in 1993-94. This modest decline is partly attributable to the fact that a greater share of black students are now educated in suburban schools, where they tend to be less isolated than in city schools. Nationally, the typical Hispanic student in 2006-07 attended a school that was 55% Hispanic, up from 52% Hispanic in 1993-94. The increase in Hispanic isolation nationally would have been even greater in the absence of the shift of Hispanic students out of city school districts and into suburban areas. Nationally, the typical Asian student in 2006-07 attended a school that was 23% Asian, up from 22% in 1993-94.

When it comes to increases in public school student enrollment, the suburbs are where most of the action has been over the past decade and a half. Since 1993-94, two-thirds of the 5.1 million increase in public school enrollment nationwide has occurred in suburban school districts. In 1993-94, city school districts educated a majority of the nation’s minority students. That is no longer the case. City school districts educated 47% of the nation’s Hispanic students in 2006-07, down from 54% in 1993-94. Similarly, city school districts educated 48% of the nation’s black students in 2006-07, down from 54% in 1993-94. In addition, a declining share of the nation’s Asian students are educated in city school districts. The movement out of city schools has nearly exclusively been suburban school districts’ gain because the share of the nation’s minority students educated in town/rural school districts has been stagnant or has declined.

Overall, suburban schools are much closer in racial and ethnic makeup to the nation’s public school population as a whole than are city schools, which tend to be disproportionately minority, or rural and town schools, which tend to be disproportionately white. The typical minority student in a city school has fewer white classmates than does a peer who attends a suburban school. In 2006-07, the enrollment of a city school attended by the typical black or Hispanic student was about 20% white and 80% minority. Most of the minority students in these schools were students of the same race/ethnicity as themselves. The typical city black student attended a school with 60% black enrollment, and the typical city Latino student went to a school with 63% Hispanic enrollment. These levels of racial/ethnic isolation are significantly above those of their peers educated in suburban school districts. Minority students in town and rural school districts tend to have more exposure to white students than do minority students in suburban school districts. The typical town/rural black student attended a school with 47% white enrollment, and the typical town/rural Hispanic student attended a 43% white school. However, minority students in town/rural school districts tend not to be less isolated than their suburban peers. The typical town/rural black student attended a school with 44% black enrollment, and the typical town/rural Latino student went to a school with 47% Hispanic enrollment. Asian students in town/rural school districts are less isolated than their suburban counterparts. The typical town/rural Asian student attended a school with 5% Asian enrollment, compared with the 23% Asian proportion of suburban schools attended by Asian students.

The Dissimilarity Index: Another Measure of School Segregation

This report examines the changing levels of exposure that minority students have to themselves and to white students, and the changing levels of exposure that white students have to themselves and to minority students. Such isolation/ exposure indexes are a commonly used research tool, but they are not the only way researchers measure school segregation. Another widely used measure is the dissimilarity index, which gauges the evenness of the spread of students across the schools in a school district. Formally, it is the proportion of a student group that would have to change schools for all schools in the district to have the same proportion of the group as the district-wide average.

To see if we would find patterns consistent with those of our isolation/exposure analysis, we tabulated the dissimilarity index for all suburban districts and used it to examine the degree of segregation within a particular school district (not a larger geographic area such as a metropolitan area).

We found that trends in the suburban school district dissimilarity index are fairly similar to the trends in the isolation measure reported above. For black and Asian students, there was a small decline in suburban school district segregation from 1993-94 to 2006-07, according to the dissimilarity measure. For Hispanic students, suburban school segregation has increased since 1993-94. These trends are based on the average of the dissimilarity index across suburban school districts. There are, of course, individual suburban districts whose change in the dissimilarity index does not mimic the overall trend.

For each minority group, the level of segregation tends to be greater in city school districts than in suburban school districts, according to the dissimilarity index.

Across all school districts in America (city and suburban as well as town/rural), the dissimilarity index indicates that district-level segregation has declined since 1993-94 for black, Hispanic and Asian students. Part of this decline, again, is due to the change in the geographic locus of minority education since 1993-94. Suburban school districts tend to be less segregated than city school districts, and an increasing share of each minority student group is being educated in suburban school districts.

In addition to examining the trend over all suburban school districts, this report examined changes since 1993-94 in individual suburban school districts. The analysis examined the fastest-growing suburban school districts in terms of minority enrollment. On the basis of the dissimilarity index, the suburban school districts with the highest levels of racial/ethnic segregation are also noted.

About this Report

This report analyzes the most recent enrollment information available for the nation’s 93,430 public schools. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education compiles the information. The school district figures are derived by summing the reported enrollment of the district’s public schools. A school is considered city, suburban or town/rural if NCES classifies its school district as in a city, suburban or town/rural locale. All schools in a district are assigned the same geographic locale. The NCES designates a school district as being in either a city, suburban or town/rural locale on the basis of Census Bureau information on population size, urbanized areas and rural/urban definitions. In the 2006-07 school year, there were 3,259 suburban school districts.

A Note on Terminology

The terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably in this report. The Hispanic, white, black, Asian and American Indian student populations are mutually exclusive, and students of “white,” “black,” “Asian” and “American Indian” racial origin refer to non-Hispanics in those racial categories. The term “minority students” refers to all non-white students and comprises black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian students.

Following Census Bureau terminology, “Northeast” refers to school districts in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. “Midwest” refers to school districts in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. “South” refers to school districts in Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. “West” refers to school districts in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington.

The term “school district” is used generically and refers to any public local education agency that enrolls students. This includes regular school districts as well as administrative and service agencies and state- and federally operated agencies.