Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

American Education: The Good, the Bad, and the Task

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

American Education: The Good, the Bad, and the Task

Article excerpt

MY AIMS IN this brief article are to describe the unique diversity of the American student body and the magnitude of the demographic changes that are to come, to consider our accomplishments with this student body by looking at test data, to point out the failures of the system in working effectively with certain students, and to indicate what needs to be done to make the system work more effectively for all young Americans.

Mr. Hodgkinson discerns a clear message amid the data on shifting populations, on test scores, and on students' socio-economic status. The figures are telling us that we must turn our attention to the students who are at he highest risk of school failure.


While the national population grew 9.8% during the 1980s, certain groups grew very rapidly, and others posted only small increases. The number of non-hispanic whites grew by 6% " of African-Americans, by 13.2%; of Native Americans, by 37.9%; of Asian-pacific Islanders, by 107.8%; of Hispanics of all races, by 53%.

While about 22% of the total population can be described as minority, 30% of school-age children are minority, a number that will reach 36% shortly after the year 2000. A look at immigration rates can give us a clue as to why this is so. Between 1820 and 1945, the nations that sent us the largest numbers of immigrants were (in rank order): Germany, Italy, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Canada, and Sweden. The nations that send us the most immigrants now and that are projected to do so through the year 2000 are (in rank order): Mexico, the Philippines, Korea, China/ Taiwan, India, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Canada, Vietnam, the United Kingdom, and Iran.

It is clear from the former list that we have not really been a "nation of nations," as both Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman proclaimed; rather we have been a nation of Europeans. There was a common European culture that the schools could use in socializing millions of immigrant children. The latter list indicates that we face a brand-new challenge: the population of American schools today truly represents the world. Children come to school today with different diets, different religions (there were more Moslems than Episcopalians in the U.S. in 1991), different individual and group loyalties, different music, different languages. The most diverse segment of our society is our children. While these children bring new energy and talents to our nation, they also represent new challenges for instruction.

In the 1990 Census, for the first time in history, only three states accounted for more than half of the nation's growth in a decade. These states were California, Florida, and Texas. They also picked up a total of 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, while New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois lost an equivalent number of seats. California will have to prepare for a 41% increase in high school graduates by 1995, with 52% of them being "minority," a term that loses its meaning in such a situation. By the year 2010, the number of minority young people in the U.S. will increase by 4.4 million, while the number of non-hispanic white young people will decline by 3.8 million.

The states that are growing fastest have high percentages of "minority" youth. If the large minority population of New York is added to the large and fast-growing minority populations of California, Texas, and Florida, these four states will have more than one-third of the nation's young people in 2010, and the youth population of each state will be over 52% "minority." In 2010 about 12 states will have "majority minority" youth populations, while Maine's youth population will be 3% minority. It makes little sense to focus solely on the national changes when the states are becoming much more diverse in terms of ethnicity, age of population, job production, population density, family types, and youth poverty. …

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